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Conover loses fight to keep interstate exit

A fight by Conover officials and residents to reopen Exit 131 on Interstate 40 ended this week as the state started tearing up the pavement on the exit's western ramps.

A budget amendment that would have effectively prevented the closure passed both houses of the state legislature but was changed in conference committee last month to allow the closure. Workers started tearing up the pavement Wednesday.a7

Rep. Ray Warren, D-Alexander, introduced the amendment to try to buy time until local officials could attempt negotiations to keep the exit open permanently.

Conover Mayor Bruce Eckard said he was disappointed at the outcome and speculated that N.C. Department of Transportation officials intervened to thwart Conover's last effort to save the exit. The city had tried diplomacy, the amendment and even an unsuccessful lawsuit last year.

“It's a shame that bureaucrats who never have to put themselves up for election can make decisions that affect us,” Eckard said. “It was to me very vindictive and unresponsive to local citizens.”

DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca said the department simply provided information to the legislative committee at its request, sharing information on a Federal Highway Commission decision on the matter. He said that keeping the ramps open could have put the DOT's federal road funding in jeopardy.

The western ramps of the interchange at N.C. 16 closed last summer when the N.C. 16 bypass at Exit 132 opened. The eastern ramps closed two years prior and were sown with grass.

Conover officials had argued that also closing the western ramps would hurt area businesses and cause inconvenience and expense for local residents.