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By LORRIE KINKADE
The Trimble Banner
Is a new bridge necessary?
That was the question at the forefront when members of the Milton-Madison Bridge project advisory group met last week to continue addressing how best to resolve issues with the important structure’s inadequacies.
This was the second meeting of the group that has been tasked with brainstorming ideas for possible replacement or rehabilitation of the current bridge that spans the Ohio River from Milton, Ky. to Madison, Ind.
At last month’s inaugural meeting, PAG members were instructed as to their role in the bridge project and told how the process is expected to progress. Essentially, the group will serve as community advocates. They will formally meet approximately 14 times over three years to share ideas and ultimately recommend workable solutions to the bridge problem to a team of state and federal transportation officials. Those officials, not PAG, will have the final say in how the states will move forward.
At the most recent PAG meeting, held Nov. 13 at Milton Elementary School, the group first examined concerns with the existing bridge, thus establishing there is a need for improvement. Among the problems cited were narrow travel lanes, which affect motorist safety as well as patient safety when ambulances are forced to sit in traffic while trucks carrying “wide-loads” make their way across the span. Congestion on the bridge caused by cars waiting to turn in to a gas station on the Kentucky side, as well as the lack of a pedestrian/bicycle path were also cited.
Additionally, some pointed to the dated bridge as hindering economic development on both sides of the river. Carla Goins, a resident of Madison and an employee of the Trimble County school district, added that she has heard multiple concerns from school bus drivers who claim to have only “four inches of maneuverability”
when crossing the bridge for field trips in the newer, larger buses.
Judging by nods of agreement, Nathaniel Adams, representing Trimble County’s historical interests, spoke for several in the group when he said, “public perception is the bridge has problems and may not be safe.”
The group also examined why the bridge is important to residents and businesses on both sides of the Ohio River, from commuting to work, accessing hospital and health services and transporting goods, services and raw materials.
Members said the bridge provides an “economic lifeline” between the two communities that is vital to many, which Riverside Produce owner Kenny McCoy affirmed, saying 80-percent of his business comes from southern Indiana.
Though suggestions continued to be voiced that the new bridge, if built, should connect Milton hilltop to Madison’s hilltop in the area of U.S. 421, Tim Sorenson, deputy project manager with Wilbur Smith and Associates, said that is not an option, unless all other ideas are ruled out, due to necessary funding. But he encouraged the group to consider future development, including a connection from the hilltops to the bridge, when recommending where a new bridge should go.
Heidi Valco of the Historic Madison Foundation suggested locating the northern end of the bridge east of downtown in the Lonesome Hollow area. She citied this area as a prime location due to the feasibility of a truck bypass being constructed in the future, as well as keeping the structure out of historic downtown Madison, where she believes several blocks of history would be demolished to make way for the roadway.
Peter Woodburn, a Madison businessman and resident of Carroll County, recommended the group consider placing a new bridge as close as possible to the old structure’s footprints and extending U.S. 421 straight from the bridge to adjoin Main Street.
But others, including Milton Fire Chief Ronnie Barnes, recommended looking at the Jefferson Street route proposed during the 1995 bridge study as a viable option.
PAG will meet again Dec. 9 in Madison, at a location to be announced. Public comment will only be allowed for 10 minutes prior and 10 minutes at the conclusion of the meeting.
The first public hearing on the bridge issue will be February 12, 2009, at a location to be announced at a later date.