Limited reopening possible for High Rock Lake bridge

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fully repairing St. Matthews Church Road would be a multi-million-dollar project, but a temporary solution to the closed bridge at High Rock Lake may not be far off.

The crumbling road has been closed for months. After lowering the lake’s water level earlier in the fall, inspectors discovered the 85-year-old causeway had slowly eroded over time. Department of Transportation Division 9 Engineer Pat Ivey, after discovering the damage, said the compromised road would require a 20-foot widening of St. Matthews Church Road.

The road wasn’t included on the state’s recently released transportation improvement plan, which laid out funding for a bevy of projects across the state, and repairing the road would cost several million dollars, said Jake Alexander, who represents Rowan County on the state’s transportation board.

“The entire causeway has failed and will need to be, not replaced, but repaired,” Alexander said. “The good news is it does look as if there’s a chance we may be able to do a limited reopening of the road.”

A limited reopening, which is one of a few options being considered, would only allow one lane of traffic on the road, he said.

“I’m hopeful that within the next month we’ll have some good news regarding the progress we are making,” Alexander said.

Though a limited reopening would allow minimal traffic to cross the bridge, it may not help emergency traffic, such as fire trucks or ambulances, said State Rep. Carl Ford, a Republican whose Cabarrus-Rowan district covers the closed portion of road.

“I think the negative aspect of that is putting a weight limit on the road and, when you do that, it will probably rule out school buses and then you get a little fearful of fire trucks and ambulances,” Ford said.

The closure causes commutes to more than double and school buses to be re-routed. It’s an inconvenience for which the county’s Board of Commissioners are expected to push for a solution. Commissioners have drafted a resolution to request immediate relief from the state for St. Matthews Church Road.

“School buses and parents are forced to make a seven-mile detour to deliver children for public education,” the resolution states. “Local businesses have suffered a tremendous economic impact from loss of trade and tourism.”

County commissioner Craig Pierce said public comment during the board’s Dec. 15 meeting is one reason he plans to present the resolution during the first meeting in January.

The resolution doesn’t include any county funds. Pierce said it’s unlikely Rowan county would be able to provide any monetary help for repairs, as it’s the state’s responsibility to keep up St. Matthews Church Road.

Pierce, the resolution and local residents who spoke during the Dec. 15 commissioner meeting say the damage is likely caused from heavy traffic on the road. Pierce attributed the road’s damage to a previous widening of Interstate 85.

Alexander said the state transportation board — scheduled to vote on the state’s transportation improvement plan in Summer 2015 — wouldn’t be able to add St. Matthews Church Road to the transportation plan, as the plan awards funding based on a mathematic formula. Alexander said the cost of repairing St. Matthews Church Road would be worthy of being funded by the formula, which was designed to take politics out of road projects.

“That would get very much outside the intent of the new plan,” Alexander said about adding St. Matthews Church road to the plan. “If this had been two years ago or three years ago, my guess is it would have scored very well.”

A portion of funding could come from the North Carolina Legislature — either from the Speaker of the House’s office or the President Pro-Tem of the Senate — Ford said, but would require a significant amount of cooperation.

“You have to get everybody on board from the local delegation in the Senate and the House,” he said. “They do these things every year, and sometimes you can get some of that funding. Other times you can’t. I think our best chance is to get everybody on board and to point out the fact that it is a safety hazard.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246