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News Commissioners fight to preserve McCoy Bridge

McCoy Bridge, pictured above, will be saved if the compromise worked out between the Macon County Board of Commisioners and the NCDOT is reached. Commissioner Bobby Kuppers wants DOT officials to clairfy their offer of giving the county $126,000 to assume ownership.Commissioners ask NCDOT to clarify McCoy Bridge offer

The decade-long debate surrounding the McCoy Bridge controversy seems to be drawing to a close. The compromise worked out between the board and the NCDOT will likely be realized at some point this year, based on the board’s conversation about the latest NCDOT proposal at their meeting in early January. The letter, written by DOT construction engineer, Brian C. Burch, to county manager Jack Horton suggests that state transportation officials will agree to last year’s compromise.

“Several months ago, North Carolina Department of Transportation officials met with representatives of Macon County to discuss the possibility of Macon County assuming ownership of Bridge #172, McCoy Bridge, in the event a replacement bridge was constructed as a part of TIP Project B-3868,” wrote Burch on Dec. 1, 2011.

“During this meeting, Macon County representatives expressed interest in this proposal if the Department of Transportation was willing to offset some of the initial maintenance costs anticipated. The Department of Transportation has explored this request and determined that we could contribute $126,000, which is the estimated cost of demolishing the existing structure. This is to respectfully request that the Macon County Commissioners consider this proposal and advise the Department if they are willing to continue to pursue this opportunity,” concluded Burch.

Last May, Macon County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to save McCoy Bridge – a one-lane traffic bridge located along N.C. Hwy 28 that crosses the Little Tennessee River in the Oak Grove community – by asking the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to make it into a pedestrian bridge. The NCDOT initially planned to destroy the bridge and build a new one to comply with safety regulations, but some residents in the Oak Grove community refused to let that happen.

The NCDOT held a public hearing on the issue in April 2011, where vice-chairman of the board, Bobby Kuppers, who represents the Cowee community, proposed for the NCDOT to build a new bridge upstream and spare McCoy Bridge from being destroyed. The board’s resolution from May stems from vice-chairman Kuppers’ actions, on behalf of residents in the Cowee community, to preserve the bridge for aesthetic and historical purposes.

At their regular scheduled meeting last week, Jan. 10, commissioners discussed the NCDOT’s latest proposal, where they agreed to pay the county $126,000 to help maintain the original costs of McCoy Bridge, assuming the county takes ownership of the structure in a future agreement. A new bridge that supports the state’s weight standards and two-lane vehicular traffic would be constructed down stream. The $126,000 payment should enable the county to maintain the bridge for approximately 12-15 years, based off of the bridge’s current maintenance cost.

However, vice-chairman Kuppers and county attorney, Chester Jones, both agreed that it would be wise for the board to request more explicit details from the state transportation department before moving forward. Jones and Kuppers want DOT officials to state, in writing, that they will refurbish the bridge before the county takes over the financial responsibilities of maintaining it. Moreover, the two want DOT officials to officially say that McCoy Bridge will be refurbished as a pedestrian bridge, and not for vehicular purposes. Vice-chairman Kuppers and fellow board members concurred that preserving the bridge was vital in order to preserve the historic character of the Cowee community, and to meet the demands of constituents living in the Oak Grove community.

“There are two things that I would like the DOT to agree with,” said Kuppers. “When the bridge comes to the county, it is full-up, refurbished, painted, and ready to go as a pedestrian bridge. We’re getting a full upgrade, and not getting something that immediately after we get it we have to pour $25,000 into it,” he said. “The second thing is, I would like for them to tell me, in writing, that they have made the decision that they will not refurbish that bridge for vehicular traffic. My constituents up in Cowee would want that. They deserve that,” said Kuppers.

Therefore, before commissioners enter into an agreement with DOT officials about taking over responsibility of McCoy Bridge, the board requested more details from the state transportation department. In wrapping up their discussion, the board reached a consensus to send a response to Burch and DOT officials to ensure that the historic truss bridge will be fully restored into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge before the county assumes responsibility of financing the structure’s maintenance costs. The board requested county manager Jack Horton to send a response letter to state DOT officials which lays out the board’s request.

Another NCDOT project that is underway in Macon County is the revamping of N.C. Hwy 28. State DOT workers are still working on repaving and other repairs on the 2.5 mile stretch of road just outside of town limits. The contractor in charge of the project, Tennoca Construction, Inc. is still on schedule to complete the project on time, in November of this year. The $9.6 million paving, grading, and drainage project began last June, and thus far, workers are 50 percent complete.


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