MAYOR: New Bridge Delayed Again

By: Dave Jordan / Ken Heineck
By: Dave Jordan / Ken Heineck

New Bern officials say that controversial new bridge over the Trent River has been delayed yet again.

Mayor Lee Bettis tells WITN News there is no new date for when the $41-million replacement span will open for traffic. When contacted, the DOT engineer for the project says the ribbon cutting for the span is still set for next Friday.

DOT division engineer Neil Lassiter says weather has again delayed some final work, such as painting, that the contractor must finish. He hopes they can open the span sometime during the first week of March.

The latest conflict comes a day after New Bern aldermen decided to keep in place an agreement that the city would maintain the bridge.

Originally the bridge was supposed to open last November.

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In a nearly unanimous vote, New Bern city leaders decided to accept an agreement entered into by the previous board of Alderman and the Department of Transportation.

The agreement says New Bern must pay to maintain and operate the new double bascule drawbridge slated to open February 26th. The previous board by a 4 to 2 vote agreed to foot the bill for maintenance and operating costs, which could cost taxpayers about $160,000 a year. The state has agreed to pay 80% of any major repairs. Alderman Dana Outlaw was the only one who voted against the agreement, he says it's because he doesn't believe the fed has the money.

Original Story

The controversy over who should pay to operate New Bern's new drawbridge is boiling over.

In a letter by NC Transportation Secretary Eugene Conti, the state says it will not proceed with a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration when the bridge opens February 26th unless aldermen accept the current agreement, which leaves New Bern footing the bill of almost $160,000 a year for bridge operations.

The old board entered into the agreement in order to get both Broad Street, a main thoroughfare, and the bridge completed. The DOT originally only wanted to refurbish the bridge. Mayor Lee Bettis says the city is about 90 million dollars in debt and a new bridge will impose higher taxes and rate hikes. "The past board has left us with a lot of problems, that's why they were voted out. They've left us with a lot of problems done in back rooms, deals that don't make sense, deals for 41 million dollar bridges that tiny towns like New Bern don't have the tax base to support."

The board of aldermen will vote Tuesday night on whether to accept the agreement. The state responded to Bettis' comments and say they simply have a contract in place and ask that it be upheld.

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