Cover Story: Yadkin River Bridge Federal Funding

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina's Transportation Secretary sounding optimistic about getting stimulus money to replace the I-85 Yadkin River Bridge.  The federal government has set aside $1.5 billion in a discretionary fund for transportation projects.

If you divide that one and a half billion dollars by 50 states, that comes out to 300 million dollars per state.. which is how much North Carolina is asking for the Yadkin River bridge.

"I think we're going to get some substantial resources from the federal government."

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti sounding most optimistic about securing additional federal funding from the stimulus package for the I-85 bridge over the Yadkin River.

A bridge built when Dwight Eisenhower was president in 1955.. but way outlived its life.  Narrow.. no shoulder.  Deemed "structurally deficient."  And arguably one of the state's most important transportation projects that needs fixing.

"I-85 is a critical artery between Richmond and Atlanta," says Conti.  "And we need to make sure it stays open."

This is what state officials want to avoid.  The I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis two years ago this August.. 13 were killed.. nearly 200 hurt.

It took more than a year till a new bridge was built.

"Everytime I go across the bridge I say, "Dear God, let me not be the one.. ha. And I pray for nobody to be the one."  That's NC Gov. Bev Perdue.

Perdue before a group of local politicains a few months ago.

The bridge-- 80 miles northeast of Charlotte between Rowan and Davidson county is not just important to North Carolina.. but if lost.. would paralyze the the entire east coast, says the governor.

Perdue says she's spoken personally with President Obama.. and has met with the new U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

North Carolina's congressional delegation is on board.. which many believe will help make it happen.

The current bridge carries 61-thousand cars and trucks a day.

The project-- building a replacement bridge four lanes in each direction.. is ready to go.. important criteria in securing federal funding.

"We can get it under contract this year. We can have it completed within three years. That's going to help put people to work but also solve this major transportation issue."

Replacing the bridge has been a priorty for at least a decade.. but there's not been money in the budget for it.

Application will be sent to Washington by the end of the month.. should find out late summer.

They're asking for $300 million..  cost will be closer to $330 million.

Where will the rest of the money come from?  There has been talk of charging tolls on the birdge.

That was a recommendation of the 21-st Century Transportation Committee.. but Transportation Secretary told us "no" to toll.. be too much of a hassle.

If they get the stimulus money.. they may take out a loan or find the extra 30-million from other sources.