Municipal agreements with the North Carolina Department of Transportation for bridge improvement projects, representing a total town investment of $100,000, were authorized by the board, but not without a dissenting vote and a few barbs about spending habits by Commissioner Charles Jeter.
The bridges on McCoy Road over Gar Creek, McIllwaine Road over a branch of McDowellCreek and Bud Henderson Road over a branch of McDowell Creek will all be widened as part of NCDOT bridge widening projects to begin in the next 12 to 15 months. Expansion of the McCoy Road bridge will cost Huntersville nothing. But increasing the standard widening parameters of the other two bridges from the 30 feet NCDOT was responsible for, to 39 feet – at the town’srequest – will require the $100,000 contribution from the town.
The town will kick in $60,000 toward the additional $100,000 for the extra width on the Bud Henderson Road, bridge and $40,000 of the $80,000 cost of the widening work on the Mcillwaine bridge.
The extra width will provide space for sidewalks and pedestrian bridge railings on the two bridges, a feature sought by the town to accommodate future walking and bicycle traffic.
The motions to approve the agreements involving expenditures all passed 3-1, with Jeter opposing. He said he opposed the costs because the roads connected to the bridges do not include the additional space, and will not include additional width any time in the near future.
“We’re looking at spending $100,000 on bicycle and pedestrian paths on bridges that can’t be reached by bicycles or walkers,” Jeter said.
He asked Max Buchanan, the town’s director of engineering and public works, if there were plans in place to improve the roads. Buchanan said there were none on the DOT’s current road improvement plans, which are projected decades into the future.
“I don’t know why we’re spending $60,000 to build a bike- and pedestrian-friendly bridge on a road that will not be improved for at least 25 years,” Jeter said.
Other commissioners endorsed the expenditures as part of a long-range vision for the town.
“I’m going to support this,” Commissioner Ron Julian said. “Partnering with DOT enables us to get this done, and it is important to be able to move through Huntersville.”
“We will be a pedestrian-friendly town,” Commissioner Danae Caulfield said, adding that the wider bridges will be in service for many decades to come. “If we are going to have a vision to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and the bridge is something that is going to last for 50 to 75 years, I want it to be pedestrian friendly.”
“It’s great to say we are pedestrian friendly,” Jeter countered, “but putting a bike path on a bridge that you can’t get to without putting your life in peril to me is not very pedestrian friendly.”
After the vote, Mayor Jill Swain, stressing she was not taking sides on the bridge issue, said the approach taken to complete the bridge projects may be a sign of things to come.
“I think we are going to see more opportunities to partner with DOT on road projects,” she said, citing the growing gap between supply and demand in statewide road improvement priorities.