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Carr: Bridge alternatives to be pared down

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

If all goes as planned, the myriad of options for the Milton-Madison Bridge Project soon will be pared down to a manageable handful.

Project manager John Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates in Lexington said local input is still being encouraged regarding the project.

The Project Advisory Committee, comprised of residents and business representatives from Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., has been meeting since August to review the options for the project. Another meeting is planned for 6:30-8:30 p.m. April 28 at the Broadway Hotel, 313 Broadway St., Madison.

Options range from replacing the bridge with a new structure at a new location, refurbishing the existing bridge, replacing the superstructure of the bridge on the existing piers or do nothing at all, Carr said.

The “do nothing” option, he explained, less an option than a reference point from which to analyze and compare all other options.

Realistically, it is unlikely that this option, or refurbishing the structure, will be chosen. “Even if we do a full refurbishing of the existing bridge, at the end of the day, you still have a bridge that’s 80 years old and 20 feet wide.”

Carr said the goal is to narrow the choices to four or five options at the upcoming PAG meeting this month. He said the options could include those that have been outlined in PAG meetings, or could even include “hybrid” alternatives that combine portions of different alternatives.

For example, he said, an option could be to build a new bridge parallel to the existing bridge, using the same approach on the Madison side but redesigning the approach on the Milton side.

Such “hybrid” ideas, he said, come from listening to ideas generated by members of the public. “They often have ideas we might not have thought of, if we were working in a vaccuum,” he said.

From there, he said, engineers will begin detailed analyses of each option, which should take about six months to complete.

Selected options would be presented to the Milton-Madison Management Team, known as M3T, a team of engineers and officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Once a final selection is made, Carr said the team hopes to finish environmental documentation by spring or summer 2010.

If the bridge is completely replaced by a new structure and with a new alignment, he said the time frame for completion would include two years for design, two years for obtaining rights of way and two construction seasons. Completion would be in 2016 or 2017.

“That’s a pretty normal time frame,” Carr said.

Should the final choice be to replace the superstructure on the existing piers, Carr said the project could be completed in far less time – possibly as early as 2012 or 2013.

“Funding is going to be the key element in the decision-making process,” he said. “KTC has funding in their six-year plan, and Indiana has ‘place holding’ funds in their six-year plan. And, we are looking at opportunities to secure other monies and innovative financing.”

“Innovative financing” encompasses such options as re-establishing the new structure as a toll bridge. The original bridge was opened as a toll bridge in 1929 by the company that built it.

Carr said if a toll is established, it likely would involve the electronic “EZ Pass” system, which uses stickers on vehicles that are scanned electronically as drivers pass over the bridge. Passes could be purchased for certain periods of time, or a driver could be billed monthly for crossing the bridge. Anyone crossing without a pass would be caught on camera. In places where the system is in use, “they deal with people pretty harshly” if a driver tries to avoid paying a toll, he said.

He said there’s no way to know, at this point, how much the new structure will cost, but said replacing the bridge on the existing piers would be the least costly, possibly totalling about $100 million. Building a bridge that to bypass both Milton and Madison could cost as much as $500 million, depending on the length of the span “and how deep of a cut in the hill would be required.”

Other factors would include the type of rock or soil where the structure would be built, as well as the structure’s height. For example, he said, one option considered in the 1990s, going from the Milton hilltop to the Madison hilltop – which is not being considered in this round – would cost as much as $1 billion.

Open house planned

Carr said the group is hoping to host another public open house on May 19, during which engineers would be on hand in an informal setting to answer any questions. There may also be a “chat room” set up online through which individuals could ask questions via the Internet, if they cannot attend the open house.