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Bridge battle

Community groups support
lawsuit to stop bridge demolition

They want to preserve the
one-lane Harrod’s Creek span

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

PROSPECT, Ky. (October 2008) – River Creek Homeowners Association has joined an effort with three other community groups and River Fields Inc. in a federal lawsuit to preserve the safety of River Road by maintaining the Harrod’s Creek Bridge as a one-lane structure. River Fields, a bi-state citizens group, is the largest and oldest river conservancy along the 981-mile Ohio River.

Harrod's Creek Bridge

File photo by Don Ward

The Harrod's Creek one-lane bridge
has become a source of controversy.

“We want to keep what we’ve got and naturally strengthen it,” said Bill Reisert, III. Reisert is part of the River Creek Homeowners Association, a community group that has pledged its support in keeping the bridge intact.
In May 2008, River Fields filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, challenging the $2.5 million proposed widening plan of River Road’s historic bridge into two lanes. Complaints have arisen over the safety of a one-lane bridge versus preserving its historical integrity.
The lawsuit was filed under Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In passing Section 4(f), Congress directed the FHA to give “paramount consideration” to the preservation of historic properties and other Section 4(f) protected resources in planning for federally funded transportation projects. River Fields members say this policy was not carried out because “an important and reasonable preservation alternative was ignored,” said Melvin.
Congress adopted Section 4(f) in the mid-1960s to reduce the demolition of historic properties by the FHA for highways and roads.
River Fields’ plan calls for resurfacing the circa 1916 bridge, fixing the guard rails and placing better signage along the road. The group says it would be less expensive, safer and require less time to make the repairs.
“River Fields believes the bridge IS safe based on accident data,” said Kathy Melvin, a River Fields spokesperson. “Widening the bridge encourages drivers to speed and will cause more accidents. A one-lane bridge forces drivers to slow down.”
Reisert believes the bridge is essential to the identity of the area. “It’s been there a long time,” he said. “And it has worked.”
Safety is a major issue with the projected widening of the bridge because many, like Reisert, believe an increase in traffic will occur. “In essence, we’re very much in favor of maintaining and retaining the bridge,” he said.
The River Creek Homeowners Association is a non-profit organization serving as a forum and voice for people who own one of the 34 lots in the nearby River Creek Estates subdivision.

Melvin

Melvin

“The bridge is more safe now than if a four-lane bridge were to be built,” said Jim Butt, president of the Harrod’s Creek Boat Owners Association. “River Fields’ position is our position,” he said.
Butt said there are 284 boat slips on Harrod’s Creek that would be impacted by this project. Members of the association frequently use the one-lane bridge. “Construction of the bridge will interfere with our members’ travel, impede their access to boat slips and diminish their boating enjoyment.”
A second closely related issue surrounding the bridge involves preserving its character. “We know work has to be done,” said Reisert. “But the aesthetic beauty of the bridge is priceless.”
The bridge is an important part of the River Road Scenic byway that is used and enjoyed by the public, said Melvin. “River Fields goal is to preserve this treasure.”
In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Scenic Byway, which includes the Harrod’s Creek Bridge, as one of the 11 most endangered historic sites nationwide.
River Road, from Zorn Avenue to U.S. 42 is Louisville Metro’s only state-designated Scenic Byway. A $350,000 National Scenic Byway Grant, co-authored by River Fields and Louisville Metro, was awarded in 2006 to protect and preserve this scenic and recreational road for future use.
“The grant is underwriting the development of a corridor management plan from Zorn Ave. to U.S. 42 to meet federal requirements which include the 14 point criteria created by the Federal Highway Administration.” said Melvin. “There will be an extensive public process that will be announced in several months.”
Widening the Harrod’s Creek Bridge would have a drastic impact on the area, said Butt. He has traveled the bridge as many as five times a day for the past 20 years.
In addition to being president of the Harrod’s Creek Boat Owners Association, Butt is a member of River Fields. “Our feelings parallel each other,” he said.
The association is a non-profit formed in 1972. Its purpose is to preserve and protect the Ohio River, Harrod’s Creek and surrounding areas. Widening the bridge would “change the entire complexion of the area,” he said.
River Fields has received more support than expected, said Melvin. “Our goal for the lawsuit is for the court to send the matter back to the two agencies to define and evaluate the negative impacts to the bridge and choose the safer, more effective, one-lane bridge repair option.”
The next step in this lawsuit would require the defendants filing an answer to River Fields’ complaint, said Melvin. OPEN Louisville, a citizens group that seeks to preserve the historical, physical and cultural heritage essential to the identity of Louisville, has become another co-plaintiff in this case. The final co-plaintiff is the Wolf Pen Branch Historic Preservation Association, a nonprofit created to preserve, maintain, protect and enhance the character of the rural residential areas of Jefferson County, including its scenic corridors and byways. 
Alice Gunnison, president of the Wolf Pen Branch Historic Preservation Association, said of the one-lane bridge, “We think it’s rural, historic, and we want to see it maintained.”
She said a focal point such as the bridge would be “the draw of any city. There is historical character attached to it. We’d like to keep some charm in Louisville.”

• For more information about River Fields Inc., visit: www.riverfields.org.

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