When I was in law school in Buies Creek, I lived in an apartment complex on Marshbanks Street, just off Highway 421. Next to the complex on Marshbanks was a small, concrete and stone bridge that covered a creek running toward the Cape Fear. Wood-ducks would roost in the creek at dusk, and copperheads and a pet turtle emerged on occasion. I snuck down there out of boredom one afternoon, needing an escape from my laptop and case books. While crossing the bridge, I noticed a concrete plaque on its face. Looking like a tombstone, it reads:
NEILLS CREEK BRIDGE
STATE PROJECT NO. 437
BUILT BY NORTH CAROLINA
STATE HIGHWAY COMMISSION
I remember being impressed by it. The thought occurred to me that the men who built this bridge were proud of it despite its size, and they marked their work. I later learned that the State Highway Commission was the pre-cursor to the N.C. Department of Transportation and that this bridge was likely funded under the Highway Act of 1921, which was spearheaded by Governor Cameron Morrison, a champion of roads and infrastructure and the namesake of my wife’s dorm at UNC-Chapel Hill.
I intended to write this article about the legal issues surrounding the roads, bridges and dams that were washed out in Hurricane Matthew, but I quickly became bogged down. There is not much that citizens of this area can do to force the city council, our legislators or F.E.M.A. to fix these problems. There is no legal mechanism to compel the government to repair its own damaged property, and we can’t make our leaders save money in rainy day funds for the next storm that is sure to come.
We are a government of the people, and as such, we are ultimately responsible for our leaders’ failures and shortcomings in this regard. Their policies and decisions reflect the values of their constituents. They pinch pennies and cut corners in the name of lower taxes and limited government, which we all seem to favor until our neighborhood needs something. When the old bridge washes away, we’re forced to deal with this reality.
I try not to present a problem without suggesting a solution, and it is this: elect leaders who believe that sound, quality investments in public infrastructure are worth their weight in gold. Leaders in our past understood this. Their wisdom is on display on the side of a country road in Buies Creek. The bridge is still standing.