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Damaged bridge not an easy fix

Farmers may be pleased with frequent rains this summer, but rain does have its disadvantages.

Especially for people like Needmore resident Trish Coston, who finds herself traveling a detour path down a dirt road just to get back and forth from her home.

“It’s ruined my car. My husband has a new car, and it has just about shaken it all to pieces,” Coston said.

Coston is like many of those in the Needmore and China Grove communities who have had to take alternate routes to their homes or places of work since the Panther Creek Bridge on County Road 7708 has been closed.

And three months later, it’s something Coston said she’s ready to see come to an end.

“Why are they not fixing the bridge?” Coston asked.

It’s a problem County Engineer Russell Oliver said isn’t that simple.

After the bridge was damaged from heavy rains in March, the Pike County Road Department received a federal emergency relief grant to repair the bridge that has been closed to traffic since.

But, Oliver said it’s out the county’s hands to begin construction.

“Since it’s federal money, we have to follow their rules and their guidelines,” Oliver said. “We have submitted the plans and are waiting on them to give us permission to advertise for bids.”

Oliver said unlike most federally funded projects, the county will be allowed to complete the construction locally, which should speed up the process. Still, the county is stuck in waiting for now.

Oliver said he anticipates being able to advertise for bids by the end of this month and hopes to begin construction in July.

He has no certain timeline for the project’s completion, but Oliver said he hopes it could be finished by the end of July. One thing the bridge won’t be done in time for, though, is the annual China Grove parade.

“If it was possible we would (repair the bridge,)” Oliver said. “There is no way possible we can have that road open by July 4.”

Yet, even the end of July deadline is just an estimate.

“It could be done in just a few weeks, but something may happen out there during that construction process that could slow the whole thing down,” Oliver said.

While the project will be funded solely with federal money, the commission still had to come up with the funds themselves to begin.

In their last meeting, commissioners voted 5-1 to borrow $916,000 to fund this bridge repair and the paving of Henderson Highway. The money will be repaid completely by federal funds, once those are awarded locally.

However, the loan was not approved without opposition from one commissioner — District 1’s Homer Wright.

Wright, though the representative of the area, said he could not justify borrowing any money for any reason.

“I voted against all borrowing,” Wright said.

Wright said it wasn’t that he didn’t want to see the road repaired, but he has concerns about increasing county debt, which has been worked down from what was once $10 million.

“We’re trying to get out of debt,” Wright said. “My name won’t be on the books to borrow money for anything.”

Wright said he has suggested temporarily repairing the bridge so his constituents won’t have to travel the extra 15 miles out of their homes. But, Oliver said in the last commission meeting, funding just isn’t available even for that.

“I hope people really understand and pay attention that we are underfunded,” Oliver said. “Gas taxes (which are the road department’s main revenue source) have not raised since 1992. That’s the same thing as us not getting a raise since 1992, yet, we’ve had to pay the higher costs for doing business just like everybody else.

“We are underfunded, and people need to understand the money’s just not there, and we’re going to see more of this unless something is done.”