Friday, August 10, 2018

Officials say they hope to replace mill bridge next year, but community members are skeptical

About 80 people attended the meeting in the gymnasium of Northside Elementary School in Midway.
Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Community members heard a hopeful timeline but remained skeptical after an information session on the Weisenberger Mill Bridge project Thursday.

The meeting was held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gym at Northside Elementary School, where officials from the state Transportation Cabinet met with around 80 community members to discuss the details of the project. Booths were set up with information on design, construction, the environmental process and acquiring right of way. At each booth, officials for that part of the project discussed details and answered questions. Each booth had blank posters for citizen to write comments.

Project Manager Casey Smith discussed the bridge design.
The design for then new bridge remains the single lane truss favored by the public at a June 9 hearing. Project Manager Casey Smith said he encountered mixed emotions from the community at Thursday’s meeting, but said, “What is consistent is that people want the bridge open.” Smith said when he and others began the project, they did not realize it would be as controversial as it has been. He and other officials said construction could possibly begin in the spring of 2019. The project is expected to take one construction season.

First, the environmental review document must be completed, which Smith said is being wrapped up now. Tim Foreman, the environmental project manager, said he hopes it can be completed in November or December. Next, the state will focus on purchasing easements for the right of way, said Diane Forrester with the Division of Right of Way and Utilities, which she said could be done by March. But, she said, the time frame may be altered by other factors. “It’s all very preliminary right now,” she said.

Liles Taylor, who won the Democratic primary for Midway district magistrate in May, said he has concerns about resources. “It’s very encouraging if the timeline we’re hearing is legitimate,” he said, but said the timeline puts work before July 1, the start of next fiscal year, and he is concerned about state budgeting.

“The Road Fund is already over-programmed,” he said, “to the point that there’s more budgeted than is actually in the Road Fund. So to say that they’re gonna actually literally not follow what is in the current Road Plan and fund something that is not set for another year is a pretty bold thing.” He said he’s interested to see how the funds are freed up, and, “I’m hoping we’ll have a pleasant surprise on that.”

Isaac Hughes discussed the process with state officials.
Isaac Hughes, who lives in Zion Hill, the community mostaffected by the bridge’s two-year closing, said he and others in the community “will not feel good about it until we actually see them breaking ground. We’re not happy because we’ve heard this before.” He said they are worried that the easements for the right of way will hold things up even further and wishes that part of the process had already been done. State officials have said they can’t acquire right of way or construction easements until the environmental review is completed.

Hughes said if the timeline stays as is and he sees progress in April 2019, he will be glad. “But looking at the process, I think it needs to be changed because it’s one-sided. … It’s not only the bridge I’m concerned with. It’s how we as Kentuckians and Americans are doing people. Their ‘process’ is not for the people.” Hughes said he watches other projects being completed and feels the bridge that has cut off his community is being put on the back burner because “it’s land value over people value.”

He also said Scott County ambulances s still have to go around the closed bridge and the counties are still more worried about logistics than people’s lives. “It’s almost like you’re holding a gun to someone’s head and your waiting for it to go off. The state has a chance to get the gun out of his hand. But they’re letting him hold the gun and wait until something bad happens. When something bad happens, that’s when we’ll all come together and say ‘hey, we need to do something.’ We needed to do something two or three years ago.”

Phil Weisenberger on the bridge at his family's mill
(2015 photo by Jamilyn Hall)
Phil Weisenberger, who works at his family’s Weisenberger Mill, said it is good that the team has decided on a single-lane bridge for safety reasons and traffic-speed control. “I think that’s the best option for that area.”

Weisenberger said the process has taken so long that he is numb to it in many ways. Though he said he tries to look at the bright side, he knows people are frustrated and the project team must be tired of answering the same questions.

He said with the bridge in two counties, state responsibilities and federal money, “It’s the mother of all government projects that have come together to make it a slow, slow thing. I’ll believe it when I see it. But it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel.” He said he won’t get his hopes up until work is physically being done, but he said he feels the project is on the right track.

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