Impact of bridge replacement plan must be considered

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By Jeff Moore

I was disappointed to learn that the Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials would be moving forward with a plan to replace the Milton-Madison, Ind. bridge on its existing piers.

The two states are pursuing a plan to seek grant funding for the project from federal stimulus money, meaning work could be under way next summer, if the grant is approved. Yes, this would be a much faster approach than building a new bridge — with the project set for completion by 2012.

At an estimated cost of $131 million, this alternative also will cost between $60 million to $80 million less than an entirely new structure.

However, quicker and cheaper is not necessarily the best option for the communities or their residents.

Under this plan, the bridge will have to be closed anywhere from nine months to a year. This closure could have a tremendous negative economic impact on the communities, businesses and residents in Carroll and Trimble counties, as well as Jefferson County, Ind.

The 2000 Census shows that more than 1,440 people cross the Ohio River at this point to head to work every day.

There are 640 people who live in Jefferson County who cross the Ohio River to go to work in Carroll and Trimble counties. At the same time, there are 801 people who are traveling to Indiana from this side of the river to work, according to the Census numbers.

Will the proposal to have two ferries available be able to handle this kind of traffic, in addition to other traffic? Or will these people have to make the long journey to Markland Dam to cross the Ohio River? Will the service be free or will there be charges for using the ferries?

If the ferry service doesn’t meet workers’ needs, those who live in Carrollton would add about 50 miles to the journey each day if they go northeast to cross at Markland Dam.

This route adds 250 miles to the weekly trip and about $24 a week at current gas prices. Over a year, this would amount to $1,200 a person for a year and could total more than $1.8 million for the 1,440 people affected over that period.

That’s a harsh burden to place on families in economic times when it is not simple to switch jobs or find new employment.

The economic impact on businesses on either side of the river, also is a factor that is unknown at this time.

It will no longer be easy to run from Madison to Carrollton to shop, or vice versa. Will people be willing to wait for the ferry to make this journey, or will they just find alternatives in their home states?

If delays are a problem and the longer route is the best option, closure of the bridge could result in changes in where shoppers spend their dollars.

One person pointed out to me the other day that the longer trip by way of Markland Dam  to Madison will make it just as easy to head to Louisville or Florence for something that is not available in Carrollton.

My fear is that businesses will be hurt.

After a year of this change in habits, it may take businesses some time after the new structure opens to get people to switch back to their old shopping patterns.

Beyond the economics, Milton and Madison will also miss out on an opportunity to create new entryways into their communities for those crossing the bridge.

For Milton, problems with congestion and stability issues on the Milton hill will not be addressed. In Madison, motorists will continue to be greeted by a series of turns through a mostly residential neighborhood when crossing the river.

After 20 years of talking about replacing a new bridge, is this the best possible solution.

Until now, the option of replacing the bridge on existing piers had been on the table as part of the yearlong study on the environmental impact of the project. However, the decision to pursue this option was sprung on the Project Advisory Group last week for approval.

This panel did endorse this option because a Sept. 15 grant deadline for the federal stimulus money is quickly approaching.

This may be the best option. Or it may not be.

In either case, this group and the communities deserve the chance to give thorough consideration to the impact closing the bridge will have on residents, businesses and the communities.

The Project Advisory Group should hold additional meetings and look at the impact of this move closely as the grant application process moves forward. This panel still has an opportunity to push for other options until money becomes available to start work on the bridge.

Jeff Moore is publisher of The News-Democrat and The Trimble Banner and resides in Carrollton, Ky.