Skepticism abounds during public hearing on bridge plan

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

Area residents are not sold on a reconstruction plan proposed for the Milton-Madison Bridge project.

Officials are working on a plan to remove the superstructure of the bridge and build a new superstructure on the existing piers. If transportation officials from Kentucky and Indiana manage to get federal stimulus funding for the project, the project must be completed by February 2012.

Project managers said replacement of the superstructure could be done in nine to 12 months.

But the public isn’t buying it, according to comments made during a public hearing on the Milton-Madison Bridge project Thursday, Sept. 10, at the new Milton Elementary School.

Eighteen of the 200 people attending the event at the new Milton Elementary School signed up to ask questions or state their opinions following an update on the project by Tim Sorenson, deputy project manager with Wilbur Smith Associates. Wilber Smith is the engineering consulting firm hired by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to lead the project.

Most of those who spoke expressed skepticism that the project can be done in 12 months or less, that it can be done safely in such a short period of time, and that the existing piers are in good enough condition to last another 80 years.

But, primarily, those who spoke were concerned about the economic impact on Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., the two communities linked by the span.

Rebuilding the superstructure will require closing the bridge for nine to 12 months, project leaders say.

“This will be very devastating to us,” said Milton businessman Kline Barnes, who owns Barnes Oil and Petroleum on Peck Pike. He estimates the bridge closure would cost his home-delivery heating-oil business an additional $700 to $800 a week in vehicle fuel costs.

He said the 1997 closure of the span to rebuild the bridge deck wiped out a previous business he owned.

“Economics kills cities and kills our future,” said Allen Cox, also of Milton and proprietor of ACE Computer Clinic. Cox said he also is concerned about fast-tracking the project.

“Urgency is not the best time to buy,” he cautioned. Though the final result may be a safe new bridge, he said the bridge closure would be damaging to the communities’ economy. “My decision is no.”

Nancy Gaines of Milton said she is concerned for people who commute across the bridge to work. She said she fears retirees who work part-time jobs at places like Walmart that supplement their incomes and other workers will be adversely affected.

She said she fears other workers may lose their jobs if they can’t get to work on time -– whether they drive to Markland Dam in Gallatin County to cross the river or use the proposed ferry service in Milton. She also fears retirees may have to give up part-time jobs because they won’t want to use the ferries or drive 26 additional miles to cross the river at Markland Dam.

“It’s not feasible to get to work on time with a ferry,” she said, adding the extra mileage from driving to Markland will cut into employees’ earnings.

“A lot of children will be without food on the table, I guarantee it,” Gaines predicted. “We know we need a safe bridge for our future, our families. But if people lose their jobs and income, who cares if we have a new bridge?”

Condition of concrete

piers questioned

Ken Bransteder of Madison doesn’t believe a safe bridge can be built on the existing 80-year-old piers -– particularly with one of the piers removed.

Concrete studies conducted on the piers earlier this year determined that Pier 5, the one closest to land on the Indiana side, has deteriorated and must be removed. In the new design, the pier is moved from the water onto land, near the point where the bridge connects to the street.

Project manager John Carr said the study shows the rest of the piers to be in good shape and capable of holding up a new span for 80 more years.

“You’ll be landing a 747 jet on a Piper Cub landing gear,” Bransteder quipped, evoking laughter from the crowd. “And now they say they’re gonna take one of the wheels off the landing gear.”

Chris Sauer of Madison, too, was skeptical of using the piers and asked what would happen to the project if the study proved wrong and a problem develops with one of the piers,

“We took core samples from top to bottom and we expect the piers to be fine as the study shows. We are very certain and are banking on the fact that these piers are in good condition,” replied Aaron Stover of Michael Baker Jr. Engineering, which is helping with project design. “If one isn’t, [the project] could be worked out. I have no idea how it would affect the [construction] schedule.”

Stover said reusing piers in bridge projects is a common practice in bridge-replacement projects in interstates and other main highways.

Not everyone

against plan

Some speakers expressed support for the project.

Mark Lytle, who served as mayor of Madison in the mid-1980s, seemed cautiously optimistic.

When he first heard of the replacement proposal, “I didn’t like it. I’m still not sure. The economic impact to our communities could be severe,” he said. “But, not doing it, [officials] might have to close down the bridge altogether.”

Ralph Vogel of Madison quipped: “The bridge and I were built the same year. I’ve been rebuilt many times, and the bridge has been rebuilt many times. … The bridge needs to be replaced. I don’t like the idea of it being closed, but you can’t do it without shutting it down for a period of time.”

Howard Strompf of Ripley County, Ind., said the bridge project is crucial to counties in the region beyond Trimble and Jefferson. .

“On my county’s behalf, this bridge is needed,” Strompf said. “In Ripley, we have no direct route south. The funds are available now. … The bridge will be closed, folks. There’s no way around it. At least we can plan for it now. … It’s too much of a risk to take.”


State Rep. Rick Rand (D-47th District) spoke last, and encouraged to continue to think the project through.

In Kentucky, “our revenue is in the tank. I can assure you, without a federal grant, Indiana and Kentucky cannot afford to build a new bridge. … It’s what we should do now; we don’t know what the future holds with the old bridge.”