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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bridge hearing verdict: Don't replace; rehabilitate

By Nini Edwards
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Weisenberger Mill Bridge may soon meet its destiny. But most people who showed up at a meeting about it said it should be rehabilitated, not replaced.

Built in 1930, the one-lane bridge crosses South Elkhorn Creek near Midway. It is next to the Weisenberger Mill, which is operated by the sixth generation of the Wiesenberger family. The mill, dam and waterfall produce one of the region's iconic scenes.  

Now the state Transportation Cabinet is trying to determine whether the bridge should be replaced with a new two-lane bridge or be preserved and rehabilitated. 

To gather public opinion, the cabinet held an informal meeting Thursday at Midway College. The public meeting was designed for people to casually filter in and out while talking with cabinet staff. About 15 cabinet employees were present and the event drew about 35 guests. No presentations were given, but multiple conversations took place.

Many of the concerns dealt with things people thought a new bridge might bring: a higher speed limit, more tractor-trailers accidents and traffic, and lack of historical preservation.

The mill’s owner, Phil Weisenberger, thinks a two-lane bridge would bring more traffic.

“There is a little bit of traffic that comes through here, but only in the morning and afternoons,” Weisnberger said in an interview after the meeting. “If they put in a larger bridge it would bring more traffic.”

Barbara Phelps owns a house located just before the bridge when coming from Leestown Road.

"I am very concerned," Phelps said. "People coming from Leestown [Road] are not going to have a reason to slow down if the bridge has two lanes."

Some are also concerned with losing the history of the bridge.

"I would like them to rehabilitate the bridge. It is a unique thing and it is part of the history," Wiesenberger said. "I don't see how you can put a new bridge in without destroying that history."

At the meeting, cabinet staff members talked with small groups who voiced their opinion. Highway designer Casey Smith spoke to one group about preserving the bridge and rehabilitating it or completely replacing it with a new design.

"We recognize the historical integrity, which is why we are having this meeting today," Smith said.

Rehabilitating the bridge rather than replacing it would take considerably less time and money. Ananias Calvin III, transportation engineer and project manager, told one group, "If we rehab it we will work on it this summer and get it open before school starts. If we replace it, it might be a year and a half before we start working on it."
 
Calvin estimated that rehabbing the bridge would take $350,000 and replacing it would take about $750,000.

Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth has said that if a new bridge is built, he would like to move the old one to Walter Bradley Park in the city. But some who have lived in the community for a while said they do not believe there is a problem with the bridge.

"I have been driving across this bridge for 30 years and never had a problem. I say they keep it as it is," said local resident Nick Bentley. "People need to slow down anyway."

Weisenberger agrees.

 "There isn't any problem with the bridge, and everyone I talk to wants to keep it," Weisenberger said. "Once you take away a piece of history like that it is gone forever."

Calvin is letting people submit their opinions via mail or email. The deadline for submission is Feb. 9.

"If there is a strong opposition we are not going to go in and change (the bridge)," he said.

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