Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mike Hibler spent 28 years in the Army, including 21/2 years in Vietnam. When he and other soldiers came home from that war, they weren’t often thanked for their service.
But Hibler and other men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces are going to be thanked every day from now on in a big way — with an entire bridge named in their honor.
The spans that carry Interstate 85 over the Yadkin River between Rowan and Davidson counties are now officially the Yadkin River Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Hibler, of Faith, and other local veterans gathered Friday with residents and elected and appointed officials from the counties, Raleigh and Washington to dedicate the bridge.
On hand were Susan Kluttz, the state’s secretary of cultural resources who lobbied for the new bridge as mayor Salisbury, and Fred Steen, Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative liaison who introduced legislation to name the bridge in honor of veterans at the request of American Legion posts in both counties.
Beneath a cloudless sky on a closed stretch of road alongside the highway, the dedication went on with ceremony and respect. The color guard from VFW Post 3074 in Lexington presented the colors and Pat Ivey, the District 9 engineer who worked on the project for the Department of Transportation, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jake Alexander of Salisbury, the district representative for the state transportation board, said a prayer in which he called the veterans “the heroes of this republic.”
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat whose 12th District runs through Rowan and Davidson counties, talked about the importance of replacing the old bridge, which consistently ranked among the state’s worst.
Building a new bridge with more lanes was a national priority, he said, because of the number of private and commercial vehicles I-85 carries and because, after Sept. 11, 2001, federal officials realized it was an evacuation route in case of terrorism or natural disaster.
The new I-85 bridge is the centerpiece of a $200 million project that also included widening 7.1 miles of interstate to eight lanes in Rowan and Davidson counties and replacing seven other bridges.
And Watt said the new name is a fitting way “to pay tribute to our wonderful veterans.”
“We’re honored that this bridge would be named as a memorial bridge for our veterans,” he said. “Thank your for your service.”
Tony Tata, the state’s secretary of transportation and a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, said the Department of Transportation reserves the naming of bridges for those who contributed significantly to the state or died in the line of duty.
He said the honor rightly belongs to men and women who have served in the Armed Forces “because veterans have allowed all North Carolinians to live free and pursue their dreams.”
“As a veteran, it’s truly special that we’re naming this bridge the Veterans Memorial Bridge,” he said. “These beautiful bridges will remind us of … the selfless dedication of our veterans.”
The bridge is expected to carry 112,000 vehicles a day by 2025.
Alexander, the transportation board member, said he hopes that when those drivers cross the bridge and see the signs with its name, he hopes they think of veterans like his father, who lost a leg in Belgium during World War II.
“… Like these veterans today, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice, some of who are still missing,” he said. “This country can never say thanks enough, and the fact that 60,000 to 100,000 cars will see that reminder daily is heartening.”
Hibler, the 28-year Army veteran and commander of the Disabled American Veterans in Salisbury, said he’s grateful society is now “appreciating the veterans more and all we did” and for the thanks the bridge naming represents.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said.