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Engineers outline bridge options

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Determining costs next step in process

By Phyllis McLaughlin

MADISON, Ind. – After Tuesday’s meeting of the Milton-Madison Bridge Project Advisory Group in Madison, officials said engineers would be rolling up their sleeves to start work on designs based on three of the five alternative locations.

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Officials narrowed the field of options from 18 to five just prior to last week’s meeting, held at the Livery Stable next to the Broadway Hotel on Broadway Street in Madison. Two of those options are to do nothing or to rehabilitate the existing structure. Neither of these is likely, as the bridge, even rehabilitated, is too narrow to accommodate modern traffic.

The other three options include removing the superstructure and building a new span using the existing piers that support the bridge, which carries U.S. Hwy. 421 from Milton, Ky., to Madison. At this time, engineers are awaiting results of a study of core samples taken from the concrete piers last December to determine if the piers are in good enough shape to support a new, wider bridge structure.

Two other options propose building a new bridge to the east of the existing bridge. The first location would be at Tiber Creek and represents a hybrid of previous alternatives.

This option brings traffic down Milton Hill on the existing portion of U.S. 421 and would connect to the bridge where the runaway truck ramp is today. The structure itself would be built in the area of School Hollow Road; across the river, it would connect directly to Indiana State Hwy. 56 at one of two locations – one that would affect historic properties and one that wouldn’t.

Tim Sorenson of Wilbur Smith Associates, the engineering consulting firm hired to lead the bridge project, said this option would “preserve what’s left of Milton,” including existing businesses and several buildings that are deemed historic properties.

On the Kentucky side, State Hwy. 36 would go under the bridge and traffic coming from Carrollton would access the new span from Ferry Street, he explained. On the Indiana side, this option eliminates the three turns required today to get from the bridge to Madison’s Main Street (Indiana Hwy. 56).

The final option would be to build the new span even farther east at Canip Creek, which would take the bridge over the river near the Milton Wesleyan Church. As with the Tiber Creek option, westbound travelers on Hwy. 36 would travel under the span and access it at Ferry Street in Milton.

Sorenson said it’s possible that, after the new bridge is built, new approach roads may be built connecting the span to hilltops on either side. On the Kentucky side, a new approach could be built down the hill along School Hollow Road, and would eliminate the steep grade and curves on Milton Hill. On the Indiana side, he said, a new approach could be built at either Lonesome Hollow or Eagle Hollow.

Other details, such as a pedestrian and bicycle path across the river, are being considered with each option, Sorenson said.

Sorenson said one of the drawbacks to building a new bridge on the existing piers is figuring out how to get the approach on the Milton side out of the flood plain.

Milton Volunteer Fire Chief Ronnie Barnes, a member of the PAG, asked if it really would be the best option, considering that the piers now are 80 years old.

Sorenson said it’s only an option if the structural analysis determines the existing piers can last the life of the new bridge.

But, “potentially, it is a lot cheaper and a lot faster” to build a new superstructure, and the bridge doesn’t lose it’s historic location, Sorenson said.

While a bridge at a new location could take until 2016 or 2017 to complete, building only a new superstructure could be completed by 2013. The main drawback, however, is that area residents would have to rely on ferries to cross the river during the estimated nine to 12 months of construction, Sorenson said.

Sorenson and Carr assured PAG members that all economic costs, from construction to any added travel costs to commuters and economic impact to businesses, will be figured into any final estimates for all of the options listed Tuesday.

“When a decision is made, M3T [the Milton-Madison Management Team] will have all the information, including economic and hardship impact on people who use the bridge daily,” Carr said. “That won’t be taken lightly, because you are essentially taking money out of people’s pocketbooks. I know that. But the bottom line is, how much can Indiana, Kentucky and the federal government afford to spend on a new bridge?”

Attorney Nathaniel Adams, a PAG member and Milton resident representing Trimble County's historic interests, said he was concerned about a letter from an attorney representing the National Historic Trust. The letter requests that no action be taken regarding the bridge project. The group is concerned about the impact the project will have on historic properties on both sides of the river.

Neither the Trust nor any of the other so-called “Section 106” agencies has the authority to halt any project, Carr said. The term “Section 106” refers to the section of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that requires federal agencies to take into account impact of any project on historic properties that are listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

But, Carr explained that the 1966 act also has a provision that allows a project to take from historic properties if there is “no other approved and feasible alternative.”

Once an option has been chosen for the bridge project, Carr said officials will work to identify any “areas of potential effects” its final choice will have on historic properties. At that point, the NHT “will have an active role in that discussion,” he said. “We’re not at the point where we can have those types of discussions yet.”

Two members of the public voiced concern over rumors that the project really is “a done deal.” One rumor is circulating that the bridge will be built at Jefferson Street in Madison, no matter what the PAG decides; the other rumor is that the bridge simply will be rehabilitated.

Carr and Sorenson said neither rumor is true.

“It would be a much simpler project” if the rumors were true, Carr said, because the eight months of meetings of the PAG would have been eliminated. He assured the audience that “all ideas are heard, and all ideas have value. It is not a done deal.”

“We’d be out there doing it right now,” if any decision had been mandated, Sorenson added. “If all we were gonna do was a bridge rehabilitation project, we wouldn’t be here now. We’re trying to get all the information so [project officials] can make an informed decision.”

Next meeting scheduled

A public open house is planned for Tuesday, May 19, at The Livery Stable in Madison. Members of the PAG and the M3T teams will be available to answer questions one-on-one from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

An online forum also will be hosted with bridge project officials on Thursday, May 21. From noon to 2 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., project officials will be online to discuss the project live with anyone interested in the project at www.MiltonMadisonBridge.com.