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Battle to save historic truss bridge likely to end in compromise

A compromise has emerged in a fight over the historic McCoy truss bridge, one that would keep the old bridge in place for foot traffic while building a newer, bigger bridge alongside it for vehicles. But Macon residents who have spent nearly 10 years fighting for the bridge still feel ignored.

N.C. Department of Transportation workers and county commissioners cooked up the deal independently of the community’s wishes, according to resident Doug Woodward, who has labored for years to see McCoy Bridge renovated and saved for all types of vehicular traffic.

The debate over the truss bridge has become a symbol for a larger clash in the region between development and a rural way of life. Residents claim a sentimental attachment to the truss bridge, and fear a bigger, newer bridge will pave the way for more people and more traffic in their valley.

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who represents that area of Macon County, has said that he believes building a new bridge while saving McCoy Bridge is the best option available. Last May, the full five-member board of commissioners endorsed Kuppers’ proposal.

DOT officials are now indicating they’ll go along with the idea, including kicking in $126,000 toward renovating the truss structure. The DOT sent a letter to the county agreeing in concept. The money is contingent on Macon County assuming ownership of McCoy Bridge.

McCoy Bridge, which straddles the Little Tennessee River in the Oak Grove community, is one of a few truss bridges remaining in the state and the last in Macon County. DOT, which would have access to federal funds for much of the cost of a new bridge, wants to replace the one-lane crossing with a new one.

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The DOT has cited safety as a factor. Engineers have deemed McCoy Bridge “functionally obsolete” and unable to handle future traffic demands. Its structural integrity is suspect, they say.

They’ve argued for a safe and historic working bridge: Not two bridges — one for motorists and the other for pedestrians and bike users — but a single, working bridge for everyone.

Woodward said the commissioners’ compromise had been considered, but discarded, as an option early on. Residents even submitted an engineering redesign of their own during a meeting with state transportation officials a few years ago.

Woodward said that the redesign was a workable compromise and that it would bring McCoy up to modern load-bearing standards, yet retain most of the historical character of the bridge.

Ralph Kennedy of the state Department of Transportation said will buy necessary right-of-way for the new bridge in 2014 with an estimated cost of $410,000. Construction is slated to begin in 2016, with a cost of about $2.5 million, he said.

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