Harrod's Creek Bridge

Aging one-lane crossing
may face wrecking ball

Residents express mixed views on
replacing it with a two-lane bridge

Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

PROSPECT, Ky. (February 2005) – The town of Prospect is just as the name implies: a town full of expectations. In recent years, residential and economic growth has expanded its borders but also made way for the possible demolition of a historic landmark in the nearby hamlet of Harrod’s Creek.

Harrod's Creek Bridge

Photo by Michella Nigh

The one-lane bridge over Harrod’s Creek may be replaced with a newer one that retains its historical integrity, officials say.

Years of wear and tear on a one-lane bridge spanning Harrod’s Creek has now raised concern over the safety and inconvenience of this test to America’s engineering and industrial past. Preservation versus demolition is the debate arising over a project Prospect Mayor Lonnie Falk said has been “on the drawing board for a couple of years.”
The bridge in question is near another local River Road landmark, the Chick Inn. In the late 1700s, pioneers were attracted to the beautiful bottomlands and river bluffs of the area. The Ohio River made Harrod’s Landing a popular stop for flatboats in route to other cities along the Ohio, and the old Harrod’s Tavern a hot spot for the men who navigated the flatboats.
A permanent settlement was begun sometime prior to 1775. Farmers and millers were attracted to the area, which eventually grew into a suburb full of summer cabins and estates for wealthy Louisvillians.
Even though it still retains a charming, small town atmosphere, Harrod’s Creek is in danger of losing some of the nostalgia that it has maintained for centuries. The city of Prospect supports this project and is preservation-minded, said Falk. Plans call for widening the bridge to two lanes and possibly replacing it the way it was originally built.
“It definitely needs to be two lanes,” said Michael Gadlage, owner of Harrod’s Creek Marine Supply. Gadlage said he would like to see the bridge keep its current architectural style as a reminder of its historic value. “But it is dangerous,” he said.
Gadlage said demolishing the bridge would ease tensions for the numerous residents that must use the bridge on a daily basis, but the community would lose some of its visibly documented historical significance.
Gadlage’s wife, Tammy, disagrees with her husband. She insists the bridge should remain a one-lane bridge, referring to it as “a historical monument. Everyone knows its there.”

Harrod's Creek Bridge

Graphic by Darrel Taylor

Harrod's Creek Bridge is located
on River Road about 1 mile from
Hwy. 42 in Prospect, Ky.

Tammy Gadlage crosses the bridge every day but doesn’t think about it as an inconvenience. She conceded that it is falling apart and needs to be repaired, but its one-lane status should be kept. There are no traffic lights or stop signs near the site.
The bridge slows traffic dramatically, Falk said. There is a two-lane road leading to the bridge, which switches to one-lane to cross the bridge. “It is troublesome for emergency vehicles when they need to get through,” said Falk.
With Hwy. 42 being the only route to Louisville, traffic is often rerouted down Hwy. 42 if an accident occurs on I-71. The bridge is “a safety issue, as far as we’re concerned,” said Falk.
A second angle to the Harrod’s Creek bridge project is the upcoming construction on the East End bridge, leading to Indiana. Falk would like to see the Harrod’s Creek project come to fruition after the Indiana bridge widening project because closing down Hwy. 42 at rush hour for bridge work to continue would erupt in major traffic frustrations.
Everyone does agree on one factor: The bridge is very old. For safety reasons, it needs to be replaced, said Rick Storm, Engineer Administrator for Louisville Metro Government. This project falls under Metro Government’s responsibility, but final approval must come from the Federal Highway Administration.
The project was approached in 1997 after a bridge inspection revealed the need for repair. These inspections are completed on a yearly basis, said Storm. With more than 8,000 cars per day crossing the bridge, something must be done to alleviate future safety issues, he said.
Metro Government’s plan calls for keeping the three existing arches and building a new substructure inside of the arches, Storm said. Railing will be similar to the current style in order to “maintain its historical integrity,” he said.
The major constraint in constructing a new bridge inside the existing one is the width of the bridge. This plan would not allow for a two-lane bridge, but rather the one-lane status would have to be maintained. Metro Government also wanted to include sidewalks and a bike lane, said Storm, but this is not possible with a rebuilt one-lane bridge.
Tammy Gadlage said building a new bridge under the existing one is not a plausible option. Some boats can barely clear the bridge as they go under it, she said. At a normal pull most boats have no trouble, but when the water is up, tall boats (such as houseboats) have trouble and only one boat at a time can go under the bridge.
River Fields, a non-profit land conservation group, has been involved in this project on a consultant level. River Fields works within the Ohio River corridor, monitoring 50 miles on both sides of the Ohio River, said Heidi Saunders, Community Planning Manager for River Fields.
“We’ve been involved from the beginning,” said Saunders. The Kentucky Transportation Department invited all interested parties to participate and give their input on the project. Saunders said River Fields considers the bridge a “cultural icon,” which tells a story to and about the community. Kentucky author Sue Grafton wrote about the bridge’s inspirational aspect and it was featured in a 1996 screenplay written by Naomi Wallace, “Lawn Dogs.”
It was Wallace who informed “Lawn Dogs” producer Duncan Kenworthy of its possible replacement. Wallace grew up in the area and her father, Henry Wallace, still resides there as owner of Henry’s Ark.
Kenworthy was struck with the beauty of the Prospect area when he filmed this movie. He carried these feelings back to England with him. “I think the bridge is a fine piece of local Kentucky history, and it would be a shame if it got swept away just to take two minutes off the drive to work,” Kenworthy said. “Better to stop for those two minutes… and appreciate the people who built the bridge.”
The Louisville Courier-Journal on Jan. 16 published a letter to the editor that Kenworthy wrote about saving the Harrod’s Creek bridge. “I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one of those who have to wait every morning to cross it. But I come from a country where we often choose to put character and history before occasional inconvenience,” Kenworthy wrote.
Completed around 1916, the bridge has been declared eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historical Places. The bridge was designed extremely well, said Saunders.
River Fields is concerned over the safety issue of the bridge and believes much needed repairs have been delayed. Saunders said the bridge is safe, since it meets state standards. But to change the overall appearance of the bridge by switching to two-lanes would alter the whole character of the area, she said.
“We need to look at the bigger picture,” said Saunders. The bridge rests between an S-curve, and widening the bridge would possibly increase the speed at which vehicles travel into the curve.
There was an earlier bridge on the spot, since River Road was a critical roadway into Louisville and there was much transportation along the river. It is the only scenic byway in Jefferson County. More than 2,000 people took tours of River Road and the bridge during last year’s meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Louisville.
An environmental review process is close to completion for this project. Storm said the projected cost of the project is $1 million. Federal government will provide 80 percent of the cost, while Metro Government must provide 20 percent in matching funds.
Money will not be available until the next Fiscal Year, beginning in October 2006. If the final design and right-of-way issues are settled by that time, work is expected to begin in 2007, said Storm.

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