Troubled Todd waters
Residents debate bridge project
By Scott Nicholson
The new Todd bridge may not be over troubled waters, but it’s troubling some members of the community who say unnecessary delays are driving up construction costs and hampering traffic in the area.
The bridge over the South Fork of the New River is scheduled for construction next year (see artist's rendering below) , but its proximity to historic sites and a community park have led to stringent review, and now the cost of the bridge is more than twice the original estimates.
Mike Williams, a Castle Ford Road resident, said a community organization that supposedly represents the community does not speak for everyone.
“People who want the construction to move ahead,” Williams said, suggesting the project has divided the community and led to unreasonable delays.
“The advantages are the bridge will be passable during floods,” he said.
“The bridge is shut down any time there are heavy rains. They built the park down there and people fish down there and they don’t get off the bridge when you go over. You can hit them with a mirror and knock them in the river, which has happened.”
Williams said the bridge has been scheduled to be replaced for many years, which he said indicated the state has safety concerns.
He said the park has led to increased litter and traffic, and though he contributed to the park purchase, he feels the Todd Community Preservation Organization is not serving the needs of the entire area but is focused on helping businesses along the river.
Williams said while many people on Castle Ford Road supported the park’s construction, they now feel it’s holding up the bridge, though he said most are reluctant to publicly complain.
“You’ll find a lot of people who live on this road have their names on the plaque,” he said, referring to a sign at the park that lists donors.
Williams said he’s contacted state officials about bridge improvements, and is concerned TCPO will hold up the project even more to get a river access for kayaks and canoes.
“I’m prepared to file legal briefs for litigation,” Williams said.
He said the project has been held up six years, and the community overwhelmingly supported one of three options, which was the least expensive and also would keep the existing bridge open during construction. He is also concerned TCPO, members of the Todd Ruritan Club, and other community members might cause more delays.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “We just want our bridge done.”
Beth Morrison, president of TCPO, said she understood why people on Castle Ford Road wanted the low-water bridge to remain in place during construction and said the opinions in TCPO were divided, with some not wanting the bridge at all.
“I still say there are those who don’t want a bridge there and it’s going to disrupt the river there,” she said, adding she’s not attempting to speak for the entire community. “However, TCPO owns the property where the bridge goes over, so we have an interest in making sure the bridge is not a disaster.”
Morrison said TCPO had worked closely with the state on planning and said cost increases were due to the state taking so long to resolve the issue. “As far as we were concerned, this was settled in March 2007,” she said.
“We’ve not tried to hold it up. If the bridge, when finished, takes away a big portion of the parking lot, we’re going to have a problem. Our real concern is we don’t lose significant space to park cars, not to mention the environmental impact on the river itself, during and after construction.”
Division 11 N.C. Department of Transportation engineer Mike Pettyjohn said the state initially began planning for the project in 2001 and expects right-of-way negotiations to begin soon.
He said it wasn’t just community concerns that led to the delay, but the regulatory process of various state and federal agencies.
The delays have also more than doubled the estimated cost of the bridge, from $769,000 to just over $2 million.
“Anything between 2001 and now is going to cost more,” Pettyjohn said. “It sounds like a big jump but any project started back then would cost less. Everyone knows about fuel, but concrete and steel have really jumped.”
Pettyjohn said the public meetings were part of the regular process for NCDOT projects and reviews for water-quality and historical preservation agencies added to the delays, in addition to design concerns.
“We’re preparing plans to go to right-of-way (acquisition),” Pettyjohn said. “We’re proceeding on the idea to let that contract out next year.”
Williams said a detour to get to Fleetwood from Castle Ford Road is “10 or 15 miles out of the way” and said any additional construction delay will lead to inconvenience and potential emergency-response delays. He lives less than half a mile from the bridge. “Castle Ford Road is a heavily traveled road,” Williams said. “That is how it got moved to the top of the list for bridge replacement.”
He requested TCPO sign a letter agreeing to grant the right of way to the state and not ask for any more changes. He said he wasn’t interested in any more public meetings to discuss it.
“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I’d like to see the bridge happen before I die.”