Wednesday, December 10, 2014

State's plans for Weisenberger Mill Road bridge are back up in the air after public objects to two-lane option

By Jackson Reams
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The rebuilding of the one-lane bridge on Weisenberger Mill Road has again been delayed due to the public’s opposition to a completely new bridge.

The bridge was built in 1930. (2013 photo by Nini Edwards)
The road winds its narrow way through farmland in Scott and Woodford counties with its namesake just inside Scott County. The 101-year-old Weisenberger Mill building sits on Elkhorn Creek, which is crossed by an old one-lane bridge with an almost 90-degree curve on the Woodford County approach.

The bridge has been marked for renovation or replacement since 2010, and a meeting was held in January 2013 to see what the public wanted done. The public preferred renovation, not replacement, so the state studied whether that was possible.

Ananias Calvin, the project manager, said in a recent interview that a crew was sent out to examine the bridge and found “extensive work” was needed, so only one solution made sense.

“We came to the conclusion that this bridge will probably be better if we just put in a new bridge,” Calvin said. The next step was to decide if the city wanted to go with the public’s preference of a one-lane or a two-lane bridge. “You have a two-lane road; why would you put a one-lane bridge back?” Calvin asked.

That question was answered, to state officials' dismay, at a second public meeting at Midway College Oct. 21 – a meeting that Calvin said the Transportation Cabinet wasn’t required to hold, but did to inform the public of the new direction they were taking.

“We wanted their response and we got it; they didn’t like it at all,” Calvin recalled. The answer to his question was: a one-lane bridge slows down traffic, a need on the narrow, curving road.

Debra Instone stands at her often-smashed fence in the curve.
Debra Instone’s Mill Creek Farm is on the outside of the 90-degree curve, where vehicles have repeatedly crashed through a wooden fence.

“If they make that two-lane and people know they don’t have to stop [for oncoming traffic that reaches the bridge first], the traffic’s gonna get faster,” Instone said in an interview at the site.

Instone said she has lived on the property for 11 years and someone has hit her fence “every year and this year three times.” She said, “It’s a huge responsibility if one of my horses get on this road. They don’t care if someone took my fence out, your horse is on here and someone hit it and got hurt; that’s my fault.”

Calvin said he agrees with Instone that there is a problem: “If you put in a two-lane bridge the speed will increase . . . because you don’t have to slow down to allow whoever was at the bridge across first.”

However he said a two-lane bridge would be as safe as a one-lane. “One was a traffic calmer,” he said. “The other one made it where two cars can go across at the same time.”

Instone and Philip Weisenberger III, son of mill owner Mac Weisenberger, said trucks trying to cross the 15-ton-limit bridge are also a concern. “There are trucks that get down here and realize they can’t get across the bridge,” he said. Instone said, “It takes them about 35 minutes to get turned around and get back to where they came.”

Weisenberger added, “All the trucks that come to our place turn around and back out, they never even cross. But I do see lots of trucks going through here.”

Instone and her husband Giles Instone said in a letter to Calvin that if a two-lane bridge goes in, they had four requests: “The current weight limit for vehicles remain in place… A blinking light be added to the 15mph sign… The existing metal guard rail be extended to the west to the width of the road… Raised bump strips [rumble strips] similar to those located on Old Frankfort Pike be installed on the road.”

Calvin said the new bridge, one-lane or two, will not deter traffic because the weight limit will no longer exist.  “If it goes any lower than that, it might be closed.”

Calvin said in a reply letter to the Instones that the blinking light and rumble strips are possibilities, but “Since this is a county road, we would have to work with the County Agencies concerning a blinking light, rumble strips (raised bump strips), and the extension of the guardrail around the curve.”

Woodford County had an agreement with Scott County to be responsible for the bridge, but got the state to take responsibility in return for the county working on a state bridge in Millville, according to outgoing Midway Magistrate Larry Craig.

The Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $500,000 for replacement of the bridge. That would not be enough to pay for a solution that has been suggested by several members of the public: move the bridge slightly downstream, to get the road away from the mill and line up the road with Paynes Depot Road, which intersects Weisenberger Mill Road on the other side of the curve from the bridge.
Likewise, Philip Weisenberger suggested in a letter to Calvin that “a small curve be added into the road.”

The mill attracts customers, tourists, photographers and fishers.
Calvin replied, “We have already looked at your idea of implementing a curve on the Scott County side but since it would have increased our construction cost beyond the amount budgeted, we decided not to.”

The Rev. Earl Raglin also lives just around the corner from the curve on Paynes Depot Road. He said in an interview he supports “ripping the bridge out and putting in a two-lane bridge” because “Quite a bit of traffic is flowing across that bridge and I’m afraid a one-lane bridge won’t accommodate that.”

But the views expressed at the meeting, and afterward, were strongly against a two-lane bridge, according to the state’s file on the matter. To download a 104-page PDF of the file, click here.

“After the public meeting my supervisor/branch manager, Robert Nunley, told us to step back and take another look,” Calvin said. “My timetable just changed; I have no idea what it is. I had one until the public meeting.”

Calvin said no ideas have been taken off the table, but the state is making sure that they are absolutely positive what they want to do before they move forward. Calvin said he doesn’t “know which way we are going to go but we are going to reevaluate it.”

The announcement that of the reevaluation pleased both Instone and Phil Weisenberger, who are fine with the current situation. “It wouldn’t bother me if they kept what’s here now,” Weisenberger said.

Calvin, however, says the damage done to the bridge and its supports means something must be done, but he is unsure of when that decision will come: “It would be really hard to give a schedule because we have been going back and forth so much.”

The next step could be putting more money for the bridge into the state’s six-year road plan, but that plan is adopted in even-numbered years and changing the state budget in odd-numbered years requires a 60 percent vote in each house of the General Assembly.

Several Midway leaders attended the meeting including Tom Mayor Bozarth, Mayor-elect and Council Member Grayson Vandegrift, outgoing Council Member and then-mayoral candidate Sharon Turner, and Council Member-elect Libby Warfield. In written comments, Warfield said she was “convinced that [a] 2 lane would be a mistake” and “create many new problems for this area.”

UPDATE: In a Dec. 10 letter to Calvin, Patrick Hagan of Weisenberger Mill Road asked that the bridge be restored to its original condition and said, "All you are doing is ruining our quiet, peaceful community."

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