Header
 
 

Pains of Progress

Can Milton, Madison survive
a longterm bridge closure?

Proposed bridge replacement is only hope
for getting any new bridge at all, officials say

"Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials
jointly propose replacing the superstructure on
the existing piers and applying for a $95 million
federal economic stimulus grant to help pay for it. To
do so would require closing the bridge for up to one year,
beginning in January 2011. A free ferry service would
transport traffic across the Ohio River."

By Konnie McCollum and Don Ward
Staff Writers

September 2009 Indiana Edition Cover

September
2009 Indiana
Edition Cover

(September 2009) – For more than 20 years, Madison, Ind.’s Fabric and Embroidery Shop has flourished during economic prosperity and weathered economic downturns. Owner Hurley Adams attributes more than 20 percent of his business to customers traveling from the south across the Milton-Madison Bridge. But one of the biggest challenges for survival for Adams and other local merchants may lie ahead if a federal grant is secured this winter that would put in motion a bridge replacement project that would close access to Kentucky for a year or more.
“If they close the bridge, it’s bound to hurt,” Adams said.
On the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, Old Town Family Restaurant owner Wayne Beard serves many Madison residents. He said he would hate to lose that business should the bridge be shut down. Beard has attended all seven PAG meetings held in recent months. He is angry because, like many area residents, he believed the meetings were designed to select the best location to construct a new bridge. “They wanted us to get involved. I feel like the public had no say so, and they misled us.”
Beard says his restaurant will “weather the storm,” but he worries that the bridge closure will be a tremendous burden on young commuters already under strained budgets. “I just don’t think this is the right answer.”
Business owners on both sides of the Ohio River are worried that a recent proposal by the bridge study group to use the existing piers for a new bridge superstructure rather than construct a totally new bridge will destroy the local economy. Commuters, meanwhile, will have to find another route or option for getting to work or wait in line to cross the river aboard a free ferry service. Shoppers will find new places to buy groceries and goods that do not involve crossing the river. Farmers will have to find new places or routes to market their grain and tobacco or to purchase large equipment without crossing the river.

Milton-Madison Bridge

Photo by Don Ward

The 80-year-old Ohio River Bridge
connecting Milton, Ky., to Madison,
Ind., is considered the glue that holds
the local economy together. Many
residents fear that shutting it down
for a year or more to replace the
superstructure on the existing piers
will kill local businesses. But
communities that have gone
through such a bridge replacement
process say it can work and that
businesses will survive.

“If they close that bridge, it’s going to kill us,” said Trimble County farmer Wayne Alexander. “It will definitely kill Milton. People don’t realize it yet, but they will soon. And you know it’s going to take a lot longer than 12 months to build a bridge.”
The nearest bridge crossings are 26 miles upriver at Markland Dam and 46 miles downriver in Louisville.
For weeks now residents have debated the merits of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation’s proposal announced Aug. 13 to build a new superstructure on the existing bridge piers between Milton and Madison. The plan hinges on obtaining a $95 million federal grant to fund the $131 million project. The balance of the cost would be paid by each state but that does not include any money to address the roadway approaches to the bridge on either side. Those issues will be up to the respective cities and states.
Officials say the proposal was reached based on affordability, timing, environmental impacts and the condition of the existing bridge.
By comparison, the two Tiber Creek alternatives for a new bridge are estimated to cost between $189 million and $199 million. The Canip Creek location alternative is estimated at $219 million.
More than a year of environmental studies and community, state and federal agency input have led to this decision as the “fastest and most cost-effective way to connect U.S. 421 between Milton and Madison,” officials say. They must apply for the grant, part of the federal government’s economic stimulus package, by Sept. 15. They will be awarded in January 2010.
“We feel it is the best approach to follow in the next few months,” said project manager John Carr. “This is an opportunity to get money that is currently not available in either state’s six-year planning budget and may not be available for some time. We need to take advantage of this.”

How it would work

If approved, the bridge would be closed in January 2011 for up to 12 months while a new superstructure, similar to the current one, is erected on the 80-year-old existing piers. Experts agree that the piers are capable of lasting for another 80 years.
During the superstructure replacement, construction would begin in spring 2010 with periodic lane and bridge closures. In January 2011, the bridge would be closed completely for up to 12 months while the old superstructure is removed and the new one erected. Two ferries would shuttle commuters back and forth and operate 24-hours a day. The ferry service would be free – paid for through the grant.

Bridge Pier

Photo by Don Ward

Recent tests
conducted on the
concrete bridge piers
showed that they
can stand another 80
years, officials say.

The new bridge would be 40 foot wide, with two 12-foot-wide automotive traffic lanes, eight-foot-wide shoulders and a separated pedestrian-bicycle walkway. The current bridge is only 20 feet wide with 10-foot-wide travel lanes and no shoulders.
The piers would be widened into a Y-shape to support the wider road. The pier closest to the Indiana side would be replaced with a new pier that would be placed on land about 40 feet inland from its existing location.
The “proposed action” for the Milton-Madison Bridge Project, headed by consultants Wilbur Smith Associates, was announced during an Aug. 13 meeting of the Project Advisory Group. Responses to the announcement ranged from wary to accepting. Most PAG members agreed that the proposed action was not what they had wanted, but they were willing to support the initiative if it resulted in a new and safe bridge that could be in place as early as Feb. 2012. PAG member Corey Murphy, executive director of Economic Development Partners of Jefferson County (Ind.), called for a vote to support the action after Carr said public support was important. All but two PAG members voted to support the proposed action.
“You’d better sell this idea now because it’s not going to go with the public,” said Milton resident Shirley Hamilton, who sat in the audience during the meeting.
“At first, I would have been very strongly against a superstructure replacement,” said PAG member Ronnie Barnes, Milton, Ky.’s fire chief. “I never thought I’d live to see a new bridge built, but now I’m actually encouraged by this.”
“We are balancing this sudden money with the possibility that money may not be here for five to seven years or longer,” said PAG member and Madison resident Veterinarian Kevin Watkins. “I can’t see not pursuing this; however, this is not my ideal situation.”

Selling the plan

Several PAG members questioned why the grant money couldn’t be used to fund one of the alternatives for a new bridge alignment.
Carr said time and right-of-way acquisitions and relocation are factors against the grant money being used for a new bridge. He also said that right-of-way issues can take years to resolve. In the meantime, the bridge continues to deteriorate at a pace faster than was originally thought.

Bridge Inspection

Photo by Don Ward

A state-hired bridge inspector
dangles from ropes over the side
of the Milton-Madison Bridge in
August while conducting a
report on recent repairs.

“The bridge is no longer sick, it’s almost on life support,” he said. “If we have to wait for funding to become available and resolve property rights issues, the bridge may have to undergo more major repairs that could close it for 18-24 months. That will be a longer impact than a closure for the superstructure replacement.”
According to project documents, a new bridge at Canip Creek would involve more than 95 properties with right-of-way issues. Tiber Creek Alternative A would affect up to 73 properties, while Tiber Creek Alternative B would affect 95 properties. A Superstructure Replacement with Full Approaches could cost $167 million but would affect 49 properties. Many of the properties for each of the alternatives are within historic landmark districts and are contributing properties or are possibly eligible for historic status. There are no properties affected by the superstructure replacement with minimal approaches, although the bridge itself is eligible for historic status.
PAG member Peter Woodburn asked what happens if the project is not granted the money. Carr said it will continue on, and the other alternatives would be considered.
Other PAG members asked how final the proposed action was. “It’s as final as it can be at this point,” said Carr. “We still have to finish NEPA the Section 106 Process of the National Historic Preservation Act, but we are not foreseeing anything to change the minds of all the officials who make the final decision.”

Randy Stevens

"We are going to suffer adverse effects, no doubt."
– Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens

Dave Walker, of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said that the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Officer understands the problems and concerns with the superstructure replacement, but has “no plans to object to it.”
“I made the comment at a previous meeting that the superstructure replacement has been a done deal,” said Milton resident Joe Wentworth. “You’ve done a good job of campaigning and convincing people that wasn’t so.”
Carr said project officials from the start had tried to bring transparency to the project.
“We put our reputations on the line every day,” said Wilbur Smith engineer Tim Sorenson. “We’ve done everything we can to be honest.”
“You did surveys and got comments from the public. I’d like to know how many people agreed to build on the existing piers,” said area resident Mike Beard at the PAG meeting. “This goes against public comment, and I worry about the true strength of those piers.”
Sorenson said extensive testing was conducted on the piers and that they were safe.
In an April 2009 interview with RoundAbout Madison, Bart Asher, a civil engineer in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Division of Structural Design-Geotechnical Branch, explained that the reuse of foundations from one bridge to the next has been a fairly common practice. “Although many people believe that state government transportation departments have deep pockets, we are also struggling to do more with less funding, just like everyone else. Revitalization or reuse of all or part of an existing structure is an important tool.”
He said one thing people need to keep in mind is that historically, a good mixture of concrete actually gains strength over time.
Aaron Stover, a civil engineer at Michael Baker Corp, another firm working in collaboration on the bridge project, said the idea of replacing the superstructure of a bridge on existing piers is not new to Ohio River Bridges.
Two projects, the Sewickley Bridge, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., and the Williamstown Bridge, over the Ohio River between Williamstown W.V., and Marietta, Ohio, have already been completed.
“Our company is currently involved with several projects in Connecticut and Pennsylvania where the superstructure is being replaced,” he said. “We have also completed similar project in Pennsylvania and Ohio within the last five years.”
Stover noted that the Sewickley Bridge and the Williamstown Bridge piers were 70 and 90 years old, respectively, when their superstructures were replaced. Both bridges are still in service today.

Economic impact

“We understand this is not going to be pain free,” said Carr. “This is the best opportunity, however, to have a new bridge in a timely manner. We plan to plow full speed ahead on this action.”

Hurley Adams

Hurley Adams

During the 1997 rehabilitation, the Fabric Shop’s Adams was forced to turn his marketing toward the north to make up for his lost customers from the south. He advertised in Seymour. He also marketed to potential customers in Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio.
“I went for markets with larger populations,” he said. “I am always looking at ways to reach more customers.”
Surprisingly, Adams said he ended up taking in more money than he lost during the 1997 rehabilitation project. Much of his new customer base comes from the exotic dancer industry in the larger cities. He now carries specialty fabrics and sewing supplies that the dancers cannot find in other fabric shops.
Adams is not happy with the decision to do a superstructure replacement for the bridge. He believes a new bridge should be put on another alignment and the current bridge should be used for a pedestrian walkway.
He is prepared, however, to once again shift his marketing strategy to accommodate the year-long closure that is anticipated for the project. “I’ve owned businesses across this region, and I’ve been very successful,” he said. “Business owners have to be creative and figure out how to get around this.”
Madison gets 25 percent of its tourists from the south, according to Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A bridge shutdown is going to definitely make a difference,” she said. “Many businesses are already struggling. I am worried that business is going to be affected more than what we believe.”

John Carr

"The bridge is no longer sick; it’s on life support."
– Bridge Project Manager John Carr

However, her office is already studying ways to change its marketing strategy to areas north of Madison and possibly use the ferry service to its advantage.
“We are going to work around this situation and look at the positive,” she said. “We’ve dealt with other burdens, and we will survive this one, too.”
Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong said the superstructure action is not his ideal solution, but because of the situation with time, money and the deteriorating condition of the bridge, he believes the action is a great opportunity. “We need a bridge,” he said. “Yes there is going to be economic pain for the short term, but in the long haul, we will get a new bridge.”
His administration is set to work with other area officials and businesses to devise plans to minimize the economic burden that will be placed on the community.
Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens said he had “mixed emotions” on the proposed action. “To go the more preferred route of a new bride on a new alignment would put the time line and expenses way out there,” he said. “In the meantime, the bridge could be condemned or worse. This is the quickest and financially responsible route.”
He is not looking forward to the closure of the bridge but said it may be a small price to pay for a new bridge. “We are going to suffer adverse effects no doubt. Those are hollow words for someone whose business closes because of this, but no matter what route was chosen, people are going to be greatly affected.”
He said he is ready to work with officials from across the region and businesses to mitigate the economic pain for the community. He said one possibility would be to ask businesses to stagger start and stop times so commuters will not have to wait in long lines at the ferries.
“We’ll do anything we can to help,” he said. “While this may not be the best situation, is may be the realization of something we’ve been talking about for 30 years.”
He said his community is working on plans to immediately go to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and get money already attached to the project re-allocated to fix the approach to the bridge. “There will be $15 million left on the table for the approaches, and we need to keep moving this forward.”

Back to September 2009 Articles.

 

 

Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta