I-85 traffic will start using new northbound lanes tonight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Late tonight or early Saturday morning, traffic will begin crossing the Yadkin River on a new I-85 bridge.
Gov. Bev Perdue announced the milestone to state and local officials gathered on the new bridge, which connects Rowan and Davidson counties.
“There are all these stories about the bridge to nowhere. Well, my friends, you’re looking at the bridge to somewhere,” Perdue said. “This is a major transportation artery, not just for North Carolina but for the entire East Coast.”
The new Interstate 85 crossing the Yadkin actually consists of two side-by-side bridges. Only one of them will be open this weekend.
The four-lane northbound bridge will be opened to northbound traffic around midnight tonight. In July, two lanes of that bridge will begin carrying southbound traffic and the existing spans will be closed.
The four-lane southbound bridge is scheduled to open in January 2013, according to the Transportation Department’s schedule.
Before Perdue spoke Thursday, N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said that warm, sunny morning felt quite different from the chilly, rainy day of the groundbreaking ceremony.
“When we turned over those shovels of dirt, it seemed like the day when we would see these bridges was very far away. But here we are,” Conti said. “This will change this area and our state for the better forever.”
Replacing the 57-year-old I-85 bridge over the Yadkin River is part of a $201.5 million project to realign and widen 7 miles of the interstate in Rowan and Davidson counties and replace a number of bridges along the route.
The first phase of the I-85 Corridor Improvement Project began in September 2010 and is set to be finished by January 2013. A second phase will widen 3.8 miles of the interstate in Davidson County.
The current Yadkin River Bridge has two lanes in each direction and no shoulders. Accidents there can cause traffic jams for miles, making it hard for emergency responders to get through.“I’ve been broke down on that bridge at 3 o’clock in the morning pulling a 32-foot trailer, scared to get out of the truck,” said Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides after the announcement. “So I’m glad it’s built, and I think it’s going to be a great thing for our economy and everybody else’s.”
Commissioner Carl Ford said it was amazing to stand in the middle of the finished bridge, and he’s glad it will start to make commerce smoother.
“This is economic development you can sink your teeth into, and maybe your tires,” Ford said.
State and local elected officials had worked for several years to replace the bridge. After the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, North Carolina applied for $300 million in federal stimulus grant money
In February 2010, it was awarded only $10 million.
“I was extremely disappointed,” Perdue said. “This is an American project, not simply a North Carolina project.”
The rest of the $136 million for the first phase is financed with GARVEE bonds, which allow the state to borrow money against its future federal allocations.
The $65.5 million second phase will be the first project paid for with the new N.C. Mobility Fund, which Perdue developed to pay for regional transportation needs.
Without these alternative funding methods, state officials have said, the whole two-part project would have used all of this area’s allocated transportation funding for about a decade.
“This is a very good day for Rowan and Davidson counties, the whole state and the whole eastern seaboard,” said N.C. Rep. Fred Steen.
He said officials from both state and local governments, including the Transportation Department, put in hard work to make replacing the bridge a reality.
N.C. Rep Harry Warren agreed, adding, “This is an incredible statement of what the state can do when we work together to get something done.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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