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Easing our pain

Impending bridge closure
will have community scrambling

Decision on stimulus grant
expected early this month

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(February 2010) –Mitigation sounds like a big word to most people. To me, it represents government-speak for “ease your pain” and would immediately be edited out of normal newspaper copy by changing it to something that more resembles plain English.
Webster’s defines “mitigate” this way: To make less harsh or hostile; to make less severe or painful.
But in the next few months, many of us residing here in the Ohio Valley who depend on getting back and forth across the Ohio River from Milton, Ky., to Madison, Ind., will be seeking mitigation in a big way.
If you have been attending the monthly Milton-Madison Bridge meetings over the past year or have been reading reports about the proposed bridge superstructure replacement, then you have likely heard or read about “economic mitigation funds” that will be provided to help offset the negative impact of the two-year project. Mitigation monies will pay for such things as a two-vessel, 24-hour-a-day ferry service to get people across the river; seminars to help business owners, marketing dollars to promote the two cities before, during and after the anticipated one-year bridge closure, and dozens of other perks to help save the region from economic calamity.
In fact, before this process is over, you may begin to see billboards and T-shirts shouting the slogan: “Mitigate Me! The Bridge is Closing!”

Milton-Madison Bridge

Actually a large marketing campaign is being planned to help boost business in the region during the two-year project, but the message will likely be much more sedate. Something like: “Come to Madison, but be sure to drive around. Our bridge is closed.”
The 15-page “Memorandum of Agreement,” or “MOA,” to which it is often referred in bridge meetings, outlines all the contractually agreed-upon factors dealing with the colossal project. It includes all the “mitigation funding” items. This is the primary document that binds the two communities, historic preservation organizations and federal, state and local governments. While the document has been tweaked along way, the most recent draft is posted on the www.
MiltonMadisonBridge.com website and must be signed by all parties in the immediate aftermath of the much-anticipated announcement for a $95 million federal stimulus grant to help fund the $131 million project.
While many expected that announcement would come in late January, it is now expected to come in early February. Bridge consultants, including John Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates Inc., the Lexington, Ky., firm hired to guide the project, believe the grant is practically a sure thing, but everything is on hold until the decision is made.
Once made, it will set in motion a series of events, most notably the formation of a bid package to do the bridge replacement on top of the 80-year-old, existing concrete piers. The new bridge will feature a deck that is twice as wide as it is now. It will have two 12-foot-wide lanes, each with 10-foot shoulders, and a walkway for pedestrians. The current bridge has two 10-foot-wide lanes and no shoulders or walkway.
But while all that metal and pavement is being stretched across the Ohio River, the region must deal with the economic hardships associated with the complete bridge shutdown, estimated to last “from nine to 12 months.”
That’s where the mitigation funds come in. Consider these items listed in the MOA:
• $5 million for a free, 24-hour ferry service, with free parking on both sides of the river for those who want to cross but leave their vehicles behind;
• $205,000 to the City of Madison to spend on a marketing campaign to help promote tourism and local businesses (the tourism office’s current annual marketing budget is only $85,000);
• $40,000 to the City of Milton to do the same;
• Up to $40,000 per year for two years to conduct business planning seminars for Milton and Madison business owners and employers to prepare for the bridge closure six months out;
• Money to hire a Historic Preservation Officer for $40,000 a year for two years to seek grants to and other assistance in improving the Madison Historic District and National Landmark District;
More recently, officials have discussed adding a water taxi or helicopter service for emergency and medical personnel needing to get to King’s Daughters’ Hospital & Health Services. They are also exploring a bus service, similar to Catch-A-Ride, to carry people from the ferry landing up into the city of Madison.
Mitigation is starting to sound pretty good at this point, but we will still be saddled with lane closures off and on all this year while they conduct repairs to the existing bridge, and up to an entire year, beginning in January 2011, with no bridge at all. The ferry service is projected to only carry 40 percent of the current daily bridge traffic – about 11,000 vehicles a day. While much of that traffic accounts for leisure travelers who would likely choose not to cross the ferry, no one has been able to predict just how long the wait will be for those people who need to cross the ferry each day for work or school or commerce.
As for the marketing campaign, I can see the advertisements now: “Come to Madison and ride the ferry!” Or maybe: “Take a leisurely cruise across the Ohio!” Or how about: “Spend a day on the Ohio River – literally.”
Perhaps the bridge project will spawn a new generation of entrepreneurs in the region? We may see private boat owners hauling their friends across the river for a few bucks. Or Billy Bob’s Beer Service, whereby fishing boats are loaded with cases of Bud and Miller Lite and hauled over to Trimble County (a dry county) for a profit. Madison has long struggled to find a company to offer leisure boat cruises on the Ohio River, so maybe the time is finally right?
Swimming lessons may be next.
Maybe they can mitigate that.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.

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