Once more the Department of Transpor-tation will come to Macon County, in the name of listening to community input, when they hold a hearing on the fate of McCoy Bridge Monday evening, April 25, at 6 p.m. at Cowee School.
Spanning the Little Tennessee River between the Oak Grove and Rose Creek communities, McCoy is one of about thirty truss bridges remaining in service in North Carolina. It is part of an historical and scenic corridor along the northern reach of the Little T, starting with the West’s Mill Historical District, embracing the Cowee Cherokee Mound and McCoy Bridge, passing the buried remains of long forgotten Cherokee settlements and taking the slow pace of a winding highway on one side and the uniquely beautiful Needmore Road on the other. And the river itself, of exceptional quality, boasts a number of rare aquatic species as well as ancient fish traps that appear in times of low water.
When the state DOT last held a McCoy hearing in January of 2009 and presented only their preferred alternatives – all of which were quite similar – they were perhaps taken aback by community reaction and memory, which recalled the 2002 hearing and DOT promises made then for a detailed study of how the bridge could be refurbished. They had not done that, but promised to have a thorough analysis available at the next hearing, which is now at hand.
DOT would have us believe that truss bridges are unsafe. This simply is not true. To emphasize the fear associated with an unsafe bridge, shortly after the last hearing DOT lowered the McCoy Bridge load limit from 15 to 3 tons. This for a bridge that has been posted at 15 to 21 tons for over 70 years. The crossing at McCoy Bridge is slow speed and low volume. There has never been a recorded accident at or on the bridge.
Refurbishing – a highly successful practice for keeping historic bridges in service in other states – is not the only option. Two retired engineers – one in Rose Creek and the other in Oak Grove – presented a redesign proposal in person to the NC-DOT in May of 2009. This proposal would upgrade the capacity of McCoy Bridge to 26 tons, widen the bridge slightly while keeping its one-lane character, and have trusses remain as historical, rather than load-bearing, members. This plan was largely ignored by DOT, who was unable to deviate from the policy of “we don’t replace one-lane bridges with one-lane bridges.”
Other states do. Pennsylvania has over 700 truss bridges in service; Iowa over 1,200. These are both states comparable to North Carolina in geographical size. Indiana makes a point of restoring and bringing its historic bridges up to modern load-bearing standards. But North Carolina is rapidly losing its history to rigid policy standards that breach no exceptions. This must stop if we are to have any living history left. Come out Monday to Cowee School at 6 p.m. to meet with NC-DOT and make your voice heard. Safety and history are compatible.