Were you as stunned as I was to learn that it will take almost three years for Elizabeth City to replace the small bridge at Rivershore Road and Fairfax Avenue?
In case you are not familiar with this infrastructure project, it is two lanes wide, less than 20 feet across and hugs the water of a small creek draining the lagoon at The Pond House, the residence of fellow columnist Martha Johnson. During high wind tides it will flood.
City engineers say it is unsafe for vehicles because the roadway lies atop two culverts. They have left a three-foot passage for pedestrians and cyclists to cross. The route along Rivershore and Riverside avenues, while scenic, is not crucial to either coming or going to downtown.
But three years? And that’s if it is done on time by March 2025. The city has the nearly $2 million cost in hand, thanks to flush state reserves. Most of the next 36 months will be spent planning the structure, which former interim City Manager Richard Hicks said must be “resilient.” Probably “diverse,” inclusive,” and no threat to fish or fowl either.
Ninety years ago developers built the Empire State Building in 18 months during the Depression. Twelve years later, the U.S. and its allies planned the invasion of West Africa with 300,000 troops less than two years into World War II.
President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to “go to the moon” in January 1961. Eight and one-half years later, we were there.
We can’t build anything quickly today.
Residents of Oxford Heights have been risking their lives getting in and out of their neighborhood from a one-lane, dirt emergency back entrance to the subdivision while the Providence Road “bridge” is replaced.
You can see a large crane there now. It probably will take 90 days to do the actual work building a new crossing of Knobbs Creek that separates the neighborhood from Hughes Boulevard. Getting the federal permits to do the work took 3½ years. That is because the road crosses the “navigable waters of the United States.”
Maybe navigable for a turtle.
Besides a boatload of state and federal permits, the lucky bid winner had to promise to remove lead-based paint from the old structure according to all federal standards, and there are a lot of them.
The general contractor was required to aim for at least 6 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation in the project on Providence Road. DBE businesses include for-profit enterprises owned 51-percent by women, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian-Pacific islanders. Aspiring disadvantaged American subcontractors can get their DBE certification by studying a nine-module class online instead of actually building anything.
General contractors are warned to hit the DBE mark or they could bring down the Office of Civil Rights on themselves.
Imagine that: possibly being hauled into court on civil rights charges for building a bridge! I guess this is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s effort to make the nation’s roads and bridges less racist.
It is just one of the hurdles erected by the Federal Highway Administration that face a road or bridge builder on a very small project. When you see the laborers and heavy equipment operators doing the work, remember that the winning bidder had to pay a battalion of lawyers and paper pushers to get the contract. Since it is funded by the feds and the N.C. Department of Transportation, you pay the lawyers and the paper pushers.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Transit Administration have their own sets of permits and DBE rules if you ever think about building an airport runway or a rail line.
The above are two small projects in Pasquotank County. There are more than 3,000 other counties across the land subject to these rules.
The great irony of this regulatory morass is that it will stall Green New Deal projects as surely as it delays small bridges in Pasquotank County. Expect rolling blackouts as coal plants are retired before new windmills and solar arrays get permits.
Large parts of the country, especially around here, need better high-speed internet access to allow residents to participate in a digital economy. Congress appropriated $65 billion to address this problem.
Most of the largesse won’t build any new fiber optic lines. Instead, it will flow to established internet providers in the form of discounts granted to Americans judged to be poor enough or members of the right indigenous tribe, racial minority or ethnic group to merit help. You could try signing up for the payout yourself by filling out the eight-page application (preferably online) and scanning in your W-2s and income tax filings. Oops! If your connection is good enough for that, maybe you don’t need the help.
The federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which doles out this money, identifies 89 internet providers in Perquimans County who have their hands out for the subsidy. I went to a few of their sites to check their WiFi availability in Perquimans. It doesn’t exist, despite what the government says on its website.
Besides, Elon Musk has already solved the problem with his Starlink low orbit satellite system. It’s not cheap at $110 a month, plus $599 for the hardware. But it works, even in a war zone like Ukraine.
Ordering is simple: name, address, email, credit card info, press “order now.” No permits. No DBE certification. No years-long wait. And Musk will be glad to accept your subsidy payment.
Doug Gardner has pretty good WiFi in the Weeksville section of Pasquotank County.