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States not taking local impact of bridge project lightly

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BY GARY VALENTINE, KYTC

By The Staff

Editor:

In his column on Aug. 19, Jeff Moore, publisher of the Trimble Banner and the Carrollton News-Democrat, expressed disappointment in the idea of replacing the existing US 421 bridge between Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., by building a new bridge in the same location, using the existing piers. We refer to this as “superstructure replacement.”

Mr. Moore suggested that “quicker and cheaper” is not necessarily the best option for the citizens of both communities. We would like to address this and other concerns about superstructure replacement.

Please know that this has not been a “quick” or hasty decision – nor is it a final decision. But over the past year we have gathered input from citizens and local, state and federal agencies. We have held more than a dozen meetings, which were open to the public, and countless more project team meetings, looking for safe and affordable solutions for this project.

Additionally, we have conducted and will continue to conduct extensive studies on the potential impact of a new bridge on the environment, including an array of studies on the area’s abundant historic resources.

We must consider the condition of the existing bridge, impact on historic districts and affordability. Information gathered over the past year through the environmental process played a critical role in the proposal. Superstructure replacement would have the least impact on Madison’s National Historic Landmark District and on Milton’s two historic districts. All of these factors combined with the immediate availability of federal stimulus funding (officially called a TIGER grant) clearly indicate superstructure replacement as the most viable option for getting a safe new bridge. Unfortunately, it would require the bridge to be closed for nine to 12 months.

We certainly do not entertain the proposition lightly. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) are very aware of the hardships that closing the bridge would cause for both communities. But we have a rare opportunity to get a safe, new bridge and we are well-positioned to take advantage of it. We are competing with communities across the country for TIGER grant funding, but we believe we have a good chance of winning.

A “perfect storm” of circumstances has led us toward superstructure replacement:

1. Historic Impact. Super-structure replacement with minimal approaches is the only one of the remaining alternatives that does not relocate historic homes or businesses. It is the only alternative that lies beyond the National Landmark District. This proposal would not require any property to be taken, which by itself eliminates the need for a right-of-way process that would take additional years.

2. Condition of Existing Bridge. The existing bridge has only about 10 years of remaining life, based on recent inspections. The longer we wait, the greater the likelihood that bridge repair will be needed, which would require the bridge to be closed intermittently for 18-24 months.

3. TIGER Grant. Superstruc-ture replacement is the only alternative that allows us to complete construction by early 2012. Projects that meet that deadline are given preference for a TIGER grant. By comparison, due to the financial condition of both Kentucky and Indiana, it likely would be 10 years or longer before the option of a new bridge at a new location could be considered.

Superstructure replacement would involve removing the existing steel superstructure and replacing it with a new, wider truss superstructure, which would look similar to the existing bridge. Public polling has shown a preference for a truss bridge type over an arch bridge; a cable stay bridge would not be possible with the proposed superstructure replacement.

Additionally, the road deck would be rebuilt and widened to 40 feet, including two, 12-foot lanes and emergency lanes. The current bridge is only 20 feet wide with two, 10-foot lanes and no shoulder. Existing piers would be reused by bringing them up to modern standards. While the bridge could remain open during work on the piers, it would be closed from nine to 12 months for the remaining phases of construction.

Minimal changes would be made to the roads approaching the bridge. We will design the new bridge so that it is compatible with any future approach work, which remains an objective of both INDOT and KYTC. Each state would develop improvements to the bridge approaches through their individual project development processes, based on availability of funding. We would make every effort to keep closure of the bridge to an absolute minimum. KYTC and INDOT are considering offering financial incentives to encourage the contractor to shorten the time the bridge is closed.

Plans are still in development, but we are working hard to minimize disruption to the communities. If superstructure replacement becomes the selected alternative, a river ferry service will be provided at no cost to travelers, and there will be provisions for emergency services.

We will continue to hold public meetings to keep you informed as the project progresses. We have been and remain dedicated to a transparent process as we worked toward the goal of a new bridge. Meeting information and updates are posted frequently on our Web site, miltonmadisonbridge.com.

We recognize that closing the bridge would require a sacrifice by both communities, but when looking at all of the options available, we believe this could be our best chance to provide a wider, safer bridge in the shortest time possible.

So, while we would not expect you to be pleased with the disruption caused by superstructure replacement, we hope you have a greater understanding of the rationale behind this difficult decision.

Gary Valentine, Project Manager

Ky. Transportation Cabinet

Steve Smith, Project Manager

Ind. Department of Transportation