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Local, state officials weigh in on bridge proposal

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens, addressing the magistrates at the Aug. 17 Fiscal Court meeting, appeared to grudgingly accept the idea that going for the TIGER grant is the best option for getting a new span between Milton and Madison.

“There are huge, huge inconveniences for people who live and

work on both sides of the river, and for people who rely on the traffic over the bridge for their businesses,” Stevens said at the meeting, but admitted that rebuilding the superstructure appears to be “the only and best alternative we have.”

Magistrate Nolan Hamilton, a member of the PAG, agreed. “It’s either this or nothing,” he said.

In a phone interview Monday, Stevens still seemed to be trying to look on the bright side of the recent turn of events.

“We have an opportunity here, albeit not a perfect scenario,” he said. “This puts on the fast track a project the community has been asking for for almost three decades.”

Stevens said his biggest concern is the prognosis that the bridge could have less than 10 years before it is deemed unsafe. “Does that mean it has eight years? One year?”

With that in mind, he believes that even if rebuilding the superstructure stretches beyond the February 2012 federal deadline, one or two years without a bridge would be more manageable than if the bridge were condemned and closed by the state.

“If we bypass or miss out on this grant, we may miss the only opportunity we have for a river crossing at all,” he said.

Stevens also said he is “lukewarm” to the idea of using ferries to help bring traffic across the river, and sees that as a safety concern as well. There are many days in the winter, for example, when the river is shrouded in fog. Ferry crossings would be dangerous at such times, he said.

But, whether the bridge is relocated or rebuilt on the existing piers, “there will be some people who would suffer and have to sacrifice,” Stevens said. “Hopefully, we’ll have generations of safe bridge crossings to come [once a new bridge is completed]. … And I hope, in the long run, that people can say it was a sacrifice, but it was worth it.”

With at least a year to plan before the existing bridge would be closed, if the project moves forward, Stevens vowed Monday to do all he could to alleviate as much of the inconvenience as possible. He said he hopes to get representatives from regional factories and plants together to determine ways to reduce congestion at the ferries for commuters. For example, he said, companies might rework shifts so that workers at different plants would get off at different times of the day.

“We are on the brink of one of the most major projects in this community – maybe ever, except for when the bridge was built in 1929,” he said. “We’re gonna work hard, listen to ideas and put those ideas to people who can move them forward.”

TIGER seen as ‘best chance’ for a new bridge

Ernie Harris (R-26th District) said Monday that he has been working to get a new Milton-Madison bridge throughout the 15 years he’s been in the Senate. Harris, whose district includes Trimble County, also is co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Though he was unable to attend the Aug. 13 Project Advisory Group meeting, he said he believes going for the TIGER grant is probably the best chance the area has to see the project completed.

“As much as I want [a new bridge], yes they are right. The money to do a large bridge replacement project may never be there. … I hate to say this and disappoint my constituents, but the reality is that a very expensive Milton-Madison Bridge may never get built,” Harris said. “Since this is an option that has Indiana’s and Kentucky’s support, and will work [in the timeframe set by the grant], I think we ought to go for it.”

Harris said if the project receives the TIGER funds, it would put the local bridge project at the top of the state project ladder – ahead of similar projects that have been requested (also for many years) by Louisville, Northern Kentucky and the Evansville, Ind.–Henderson, Ky., area. He quipped that he hopes “to live long enough” to see any of those other projects done.

Harris said he would support adding more than just two ferries at Madison – possibly setting up ferry service upriver in Carrollton, as well, to further help alleviate the inconvenience to commuters.

“There will be some people who will just change jobs; others will have to adjust [their commutes] accordingly,” he said.

Harris also promised that if the grant is received, he will push during the January 2010 General Assembly to budget funds to start design work on a new U.S. 421 access route to the bridge on the Kentucky side – with the goal of eliminating Milton Hill. He also said he would work to get that project on the Transportation Cabinet’s six-year road plan.

State Rep. Rick Rand (D-47th District) said he, too, will work with local leaders to resolve commute problems for local residents.

Legislators would push to eliminate Milton Hill

And Rand, who is co-chairman of the House 2010-12 Budget Preparation and Submission Subcommittee and co-chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said it also is one of his goals is to work in January to appropriate state funds for design of a new U.S. 421 access to the bridge, if the federal funding for the bridge replacement is approved.

“Milton Hill is a problem, and it’s always going to be a problem,” he said during an interview Monday at his Bedford insurance office. “We have to do something there. I’m with Ernie 100 percent.”

He said he also hopes Indiana will work to improve approaches to the bridge on that side of the river as well. “It would be a shame to have a new bridge and not fix the approaches. … They’ll find a solution, and I think we will, too.

Despite the unknown local affects of losing the local Ohio River crossing for an extended period, Rand said this is “an exciting time, really. There’s a lot of uncertainty. But, who would have thought at this time last year that we’d be in this position? In the long run, it’s going to be great for our communities.”