Attitude adjustment

Pending bridge closure is forcing
us to get into proper mindset

What can we really expect in the coming months?

By Don Ward

(April 2010) – "What are you going to do when the bridge closes?”
That’s a question I hear often. My response: “I guess I’ll ride the ferry like everyone else.”
It seems simple enough. But who really knows what THAT’S going to be like? How long will it take? How long will I have to sit in line? Will it be worth it? Will life cease to exist as I know it?
I cross the Milton-Madison Bridge at least twice a day, on average. Sometimes four or even six times. I have a farm in Milton but live in Madison. I operate a newspaper based in Madison that serves southern Indiana but also a second edition serving six neighboring Kentucky counties. I need that bridge for my livelihood.
And I am not alone. Hundreds of local commuters, truckers, farmers, teachers, students and business people use that bridge daily to get to work, school, church, grocery stores, medical and dental appointments – or simply to conduct business. What are they planning to do? Are they even thinking about it?
Will they change their shopping habits? Switch churches? Quit or change jobs? Drop out or of school, transfer or delay their education?
Many people are angry, frustrated or even outraged at the mere thought of closing the 80-year-old bridge for up to a year or more to replace the superstructure atop the existing piers, rather than build a new bridge nearby. But the lack of money to do the latter has led us to this replacement option.
Meantime, many in the community are saddened at the apparent loss of a historic structure – our 1929 truss bridge – in a town that has built its reputation on historic preservation. The idea of building a new bridge and preserving the existing structure for a walking and bicycling crossing is dead.
So now what? How do we as citizens prepare for such a magnanimous construction effort? Will it really only take one year? Can anyone predict the environmental or weather factors that could delay the project? What can we do to prepare? And do we really have any choice?
Downtown Madison retailers recall how they lost up to 40 percent of their business from Trimble and Carroll countians when the bridge was reduced to one lane for rehabilitation or painting in previous years. They fear the worst at the mere thought of a complete bridge closure.
The situation is even worse for Trimble Countians. Consider: the nearest hospital is Carrollton or La Grange; the nearest Wal-mart is Carrollton or La Grange; the nearest movie theater is La Grange; the nearest fitness center is Carrollton or La Grange; the nearest dry cleaner, tire dealer and shoe store is Carrollton or La Grange; with the exception of Subway in Bedford, the nearest fast-food restaurant is Carrollton or La Grange; the nearest liquor store is Carrollton or La Grange (Trimble County is dry).
Are you starting to see the trend here? Our shopping and travel habits are about to take a dramatic turn. Will they be forever changed, even in the aftermath of this colossal project?
Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone is just sitting back waiting to see what happens. For example, both the city of Madison and a separate grassroots group are exploring the operation of a local shuttle to transport people from the ferry dock to various points around Madison. One of Madison’s largest churches, North Madison Christian Church, is devising a plan to open a second church in Trimble County to provide services to its many Kentucky members during the bridge closure. Some of the area’s larger companies have been asked to consider staggering their employee work schedules to lessen the amount of traffic during the typical rush hours to help alleviate the burden on the free, 24-hour, two-vessel ferry crossing. Bridge consultants managing the project are considering adding a separate EMT boat or possibly a helicopter to handle emergencies in getting people across the river to King’s Daughters’ Hospital & Health Services.
But have we thought of everything? What about barges, fishing and pleasure boats that use the river? What about getting tourists to Madison? What about weekend boaters who travel to Madison to attend its major festivals? What about the running of the Madison Regatta?
How will these be affected?
Although the Milton-Madison Bridge connects two separate states, we are essentially one community. And it will take a community wide effort to pull this off. The pain, though short-term, will hopefully lead to long-term gain. Soon, we will have a new bridge, complete with wider lanes and shoulders and a pedestrian crossing – something we did not have before. It may not be historic, but it will be functional and new – and without a 15-ton weight limit to keep it from falling into the river.
Despite my fears of how my life and business are about to change while the bridge replacement project takes place, I try to remain optimistic and see the glass half full. So instead of asking people what they are going to do when the bridge closes, I am slowly learning to accept the inevitable and ask: “What are you going to do until the new bridge opens?”
While this subtle change in wording may seem purely semantics, it helps me focus on the optimistic notion that someday this, too, shall pass.

• 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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