|The bridge was closed July 1 after an inspection found danger.|
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
Residents of Woodford and Scott counties contested the plan for a two-lane Weisenberger Mill Bridge during a three-hour meeting Tuesday evening at Midway University.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the State Historic Preservation Office invited property owners who would be directly affected by the project to help find ways to mitigate any adverse effects on historical and archeological properties.
The National Historic Preservation Act requires that federally funded projects consider effects on historical sites and give the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation a chance to make comments or recommendations.
The cabinet gave about a dozen people “consulting party” status, and most objected to the limited time they were given to look over documents concerning the project, including the physical features of the new bridge, and communications with Project Manager Ananias Calvin III.
Nearly all took issue with the proposed two-lane bridge, but Kentucky Heritage Council Director Craig Potts said the plan is a foregone conclusion and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the project’s effect on the historical aspects of the area—not to debate one lane versus two.
Some of the consulting parties pushed back. Ellen Bagby interrupted the agency representatives with calls to change the plan and push back the deadline for comment on the mitigation process.
Bagby said she lives less than a mile from the bridge and making it two lanes would encourage drivers to speed on the narrow country road, creating a hazard to other cars and pedestrians. Others made the same complaint.
Calvin said a two-lane bridge would be safer than a one-lane, and engineers on the project had considered the traffic that would use the road—including the semi-trailer trucks that were part of the reason for the bridge’s July 1 closure—when evaluating the safety standards the road would have to meet.
“I can’t say if the speed [of drivers] is going to increase or decrease,” Calvin said. “What we’re going to recommend is that they put a sign over on the Scott County side as well as the sign they have on the Woodford County side: 15 miles an hour because of the curve. We can’t make people abide by it, but that’s one issue that we’re going to bring up.”
The road is maintained by the counties. Woodford County has responsibility for the bridge, but the state is doing the project in return for the county doing work on a state road a few years ago.
Calvin said semi-trailer trucks continued to drive on the bridge after a 3-ton weight limit was implemented last winter, causing the bridge to weaken. When it was inspected in late June, it was discovered that there were significant problems with the steel infrastructure and it was closed.
The bridge attracts residents, touring motorists and bicyclists because it offers a good view of the historic Weisenberger Mill, and it is also a popular spot for anglers in South Elkhorn Creek.
Tuesday night’s discussion in a meeting room at Midway University turned into a contentious debate that often interrupted the Transportation Cabinet’s presentation.
|L-R at table: Midway Magistrate Linda Popp, mill owner Mac Weisenberger and wife Sally (Photo by Marjorie Kirk)|
At one point, Scott County resident Pat Hagan got up from his seat in the crowd and joined the table of authorized consulting parties after he was told that the meeting’s priority was to address the concerns of those parties.
When the group continued to make points about the safety of a one-lane bridge, and a cabinet representative said that alternative would not be considered, Bagby shouted out, “Change it.”
As the night was coming to a close, Bagby persisted, asking for an extension of the Dec. 13 deadline for written comments.
To this, a member of the crowd pointed out that the longer the public tries to prolong the project, the longer ambulances, buses and traffic from using a route that in some cases is faster for them.
The cabinet refused to extend the deadline, but representative Jonna Wallace said the discussion did unearth the option of keeping one of the stone abutments that would have been replaced to accommodate a bridge that will be nearly twice as wide.
But aside from that, Wallace defended the cabinet’s decision. “These determinations and recommendations are evidence-based,” including traffic counts and consultations from traffic experts, she said. “They’re not just because we think it should be this way.”
Consulting party Bryan Pryor was among those voicing concern over the two-lane bridge, but he suggested at the end of the meeting that the best use of the parties’ efforts would be to lobby their county governments to put up warning signs and traffic restrictions on the approaches to the bridge.
The bridge is a “pony truss,” or small-truss, span built in 1932. All such bridges more than 50 years old are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, according to David Waldner, the cabinet’s director of environmental analysis.
To mitigate the loss of the old bridge in a historic district, the new one will be “a truss structure of similar design,” Waldner said in an interview before the meeting. “The aesthetics of that were important.”
Calvin said in an interview that the cost estimate of $1.3 million is about double the cost of a standard bridge for such a location.
Waldner said the cabinet considered rehabilitating the bridge, but estimated that would extend its life no more than 20 years and would have cost 40 to 50 percent of the cost of a new bridge, which will last 75 to 100 years. “The economics really didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said.
Waldner said the cabinet wouldn’t normally hold a meeting for consulting parties and observers on such a small project, “but the interest in this project is fairly high.” He said the cabinet had shared information with consulting parties for six to eight weeks and had met with some of them.
Calvin told the Midway Messenger on Wednesday that the bid letting for the project has been delayed again, until June, to give the cabinet time to buy small pieces of property that will be needed for the project. He said offers cannot be made until the project’s environmental documents are approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.