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Bracing for Bridge Closure

Carrollton, La Grange prepare
for competition if bridge closes

Two towns will likely see more
traffic during 2011 project

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

December 2009 Kentucky Edition Cover

December 2009
Kentucky Edition Cover

CARROLLTON, Ky. (December 2009) – To say the closing of the Milton-Madison Bridge a year from now will be an inconvenience for many is an understatement. Bridge project officials have proposed closing the 80-year-old bridge in 2011 to replace the superstructure atop the existing piers. It would be closed from nine to 12 months, they say.
Although no one denies it needs to be repaired for safety reasons, business leaders in the Carrollton, Ky., community are already concerned about where local and regional residents will go to shop and conduct business.
A Carroll County Chamber of Commerce Downtown Revitalization Meeting was held Oct. 20 during which the bridge closure was discussed. Ideas were considered for a marketing campaign to keep Carrollton’s economy thriving during the bridge shutdown.

Milton-Madison Bridge Project Logo

Three main ideas that resulted from the meeting hinged on the beautification of downtown Carrollton, business recruitment and the development of a River Walk between Fifth Street and Point Park, said Sam Burgess, Carrollton Main Street Program manager.
Committees were formed based on these three ideas and the hope is that these committees can come up with different ideas to keep the downtown area flourishing during the bridge closure. Even though nothing concrete was developed, “We hope we will come up with ideas as a group,” said Carroll County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Heather Yocum.
Mark H. Smith is the incoming chamber president for 2010. “This is a continuation of positive things which have occurred downtown already, such as our fabulous library, new restaurant and the many events,” Smith said. “The chamber is encouraging all members to make their businesses inviting for potential new customers.”

Milton-Madison Bridge

Photo by Don Ward

The 80-year-old Milton-Madison
Bridge has been deemed “structurally
deficient and functionally obsolete,”
meaning it’s too narrow for today’s
traffic. A 15-ton weight limit was
imposed on the bridge last summer.

There are both negatives and positives to this project, said Burgess, and there are bound to be some long-term effects on Carrollton, Burgess said. One major positive outcome would be in getting residents used to buying local products again.
He views one positive effect of the closure as seeing “more traffic and dollars staying locally.” It could also be an enticement to businesses to locate to Carrollton, he said.
Many at the meeting see La Grange, Ky., as a possible major economic threat to Carrollton. Naturally, when the bridge closes, La Grange would be one of the places Madison residents could go to instead of Carrollton.
“We do share common customers,” said Karen Eldridge, owner of Karen’s Book Barn in La Grange. “But I’m not sure what to expect.”

Karen Eldridge

"Even though (La Grange) has different things to offer, we’re a good alternative to people who go to Madison, but we cannot replace Madison."
– Karen Eldridge, Karen’s Bookbarn, La Grange, Ky.

She said that “even though we have different things to offer, we’re a good alternative to people who go to Madison, but we can not replace Madison.”
Eldridge, who is also on the board of Discover Downtown La Grange (the town’s Main Street organization), said the organization has not discussed how or if the bridge closure will impact the city. If people are just looking for a day out and about, La Grange is a great place to go, she said. But she doesn’t know if La Grange will become a permanent destination to draw individuals away from Carrollton.
Barbara Edds, executive director of Discover Downtown La Grange, believes it’s just too early to know if La Grange will be impacted by the bridge closure. La Grange does have a “very walkable, shopable downtown,” said Edds. “There is also the draw of the train. We’re one of three towns in the whole United States that has this particular situation with a train running down Main Street.”
Edds also credits both La Grange and Madison as having “a historical aspect that draws people in.” The closure is “definitely something for us to be thinking about.” But she added, “If people want to go to Madison, they’ll find a way to get there.”
Like others she knows, Edds is concerned about crossing the Milton-Madison Bridge. “Infrastructure all over the United States in aging and has to be replaced.”
Eldridge said she is excited about the idea of a ferry service that would shuttle commuters back and forth. This may also make people think about alternate routes from Carrollton to Madison.
If it pans out, this may prove to be a viable transportation option, conceded Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson. “At this point, we need to look at any options we’ve got,” he said. Tomlinson said he would be working with Madison and Trimble County officials to take care of any concerns and get the project completed in a timely fashion.
Bridge project officials applied for a $95 million federal grant, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or economic stimulus funds. The grant applied for is a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and the money will be awarded in January 2010. If the bridge project receives the grant, it would contain the stipulation that the project would have to be completed by February 2012.

Shorty Tomlinson

"We see this as an opportunity for our local merchants to market their products and services to a new customer base."
– Shorty Tomlinson, Carroll Co. Judge-Executive

It would possibly be one year before we would see the bridge closed, said Tomlinson. Periodic lane closures would occur in spring 2010 for much-needed repairs until the replacement project begins. Cost of the superstructure replacement is $131 million. Indiana and Kentucky have agreed to split the additional cost above the $95 million grant.
It’s definitely going to have an impact on Carrollton and Carroll County, Tomlinson said. “For individuals that commute back and forth across the bridge to work, it will put a financial bind on them.” It will put a burden on the many companies in Carrollton with large trucks that cross the bridge daily as well.
A 15-ton truck weight limit already was imposed on the bridge last summer by the Kentucky Department of Transportation. Vehicle Enforcement officers from the Kentucky State Police Post 5 have been enforcing the weight limit.
But Tomlinson doesn’t see the project as a complete negative for local businesses. Once the bridge is completely closed, it may provide an “opportunity for Carrollton to pick up business,” said Tomlinson.
“From a chamber perspective, we see this as an opportunity for our local merchants to market their products and services to a new customer base. For the businesses, this may provide increased sales,” said Smith.
As long as local business meets consumer demands with products and services similar to what they might find in La Grange or Madison, Smith said, “We are finding that the increased time and expense of going out of town influences folks to shop at home, especially in these times of budget consciousness.”
He thinks the closure will not deter new businesses from opening in Carroll County. The bridge closure is a short-term issue, whereas opening a new business is a long-term decision, Smith said. “It appears more businesses are recognizing Carroll County’s appeal over the long term. Carroll County will have an opportunity to market its attractiveness to potential new visitors, consumers and residents,” once the bridge is re-opened.
No matter what, “The bottom line is that the bridge is in terrible condition,” said Tomlinson. “It needs to be replaced and there are not a lot of good alternatives. Safety has to be the number one factor.”
Burgess agrees: “I’m not looking forward to the inconveniences. But I have to put safety over personal preferences.”

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