City: No changes planned for Shober Bridge
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — After 25 years and $171,000, City Council decided Tuesday to leave historic Shober Bridge just the way it is.
Norfolk Southern Railway derailed the city’s plan to rehabilitate the old bridge, which carries Ellis Street over the railroad tracks. Rather than giving in to the railroad’s wish to replace and lengthen the bridge to accommodate a future third track, council members voted to do nothing.
“We’ve dealt with it for 25 years,” said Dan Mikkelson, the city’s director for engineering.
The city will continue to close the timber bridge periodically for repairs. It still can’t carry heavy trucks, like emergency vehicles, but the “no-build” option provides the maximum historic preservation, Mikkelson said.
“The desirable options have been eliminated by the railroad,” he said. “This is practical.”
The federal government, which holds the pursestrings for a bridge that the city owns, said Salisbury would need the railroad’s blessing to move forward with rehabilitation.
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said he was incensed the Federal Highway Administration took the railroad’s side instead of listening to City Council, which represents the people.
“I’m pretty annoyed by that,” Kennedy said.
To rub salt in the wound, Mikkelson said, the N.C. Department of Transportation has invoiced the city for $171,148 in federal funds spent over the past quarter-century for bridge planning and engineering.
“There is a time limit, and this project has exceeded the time limit by a long amount,” Mikkelson said.
With the city’s decision to do nothing, Mikkelson said he will ask the state to waive repayment. The city has been going through the National Environmental Policy Act process for the bridge, and federal policy says cities that choose a no-build option as a result of that process should not be penalized financially, Mikkelson said.
He recommended the city complete the NEPA process to better address the invoice issue.
Tearing down the bridge and building a replacement to accommodate three tracks would require the city to start over with NEPA, Mikkelson said.
Cynthia Cole Jenkins, new executive director for Historic Salisbury Foundation, encouraged the city to leave the bridge alone.
The bridge, one of a few humpbacks left in the state, gives Salisbury a sense of place and is historically important for the neighborhood, Jenkins said.
“Allow us to continue to deal with DOT and the railroad and figure out exactly what it is they are trying to do with the third-track option,” she said.
Mayor Susan Kluttz said historic preservation is an important part of Salisbury, and the community “has rallied very visibly for this bridge.”
Preservationists launched a yard-sign campaign last year and took other measures to support the bridge.
Kluttz said it would be foolish to build a three-track bridge when the city doesn’t know the railroad’s plans.
Even if he supported a three-track bridge, Councilman Brian Miller said the city isn’t in a financial position to build one.
The city still needs to solve the problem of emergency vehicles getting across the railroad tracks, Miller said, but for now he supports no action.
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said a three-track replacement bridge would significantly impair the character of an historic neighborhood and affect the property of a resident.
Historic neighborhoods draw visitors to Salisbury and generate revenue for local businesses, she said.
City Council will hold a public budget workshop from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 217 S. Main St.
Budget proposals include:
• 5.2 cent property tax increase. The rate is “revenue neutral,” meaning even though it’s higher, the city will generate the same amount of property tax revenue as last year.
• Cut 36 full-time and 11 part-time positions. Most of the jobs were vacant due to a rolling freeze that began several years ago.
• Continue rolling freeze. Only essential positions would be filled.
• Increase water and sewer rates by an average 2.86 percent.
• Realign and consolidate several divisions into functional units to increase efficiency.
• No merit or cost of living increases for third year.
• Cut funding to nonprofit groups by 10 percent.
• No increase in Fibrant rates.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.