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 A New Approach

Madison Mayor lobbies INDOT
to tackle new bridge approach

He is ‘confident’ state will address
issue in coming months

(January 2014) – When the new Milton-Madison Bridge opens in its permanent location, expected to take place in late January or early February, motorists entering Madison, Ind., will still have to wind their way through narrow residential streets and negotiate three 90-degree turns to reach Main Street.

Approach

Photo by Don Ward

An effort is under way to redesign the Madison approach to the Milton-Madison Bridge to connect directly with Hwy. 56 (Main Street) and avoid three 90-degree turns that it currently takes to get to Main Street.

But Madison Mayor Damon Welch is hoping that will soon change. He has been lobbying officials at the Indiana Department of Transportation to take over the project to redesign the Madison approach to the new bridge. He wants to improve the area because it serves as a gateway into the city for motorists traveling over the bridge from Kentucky to Indiana.
“There is no signed deal at this point, but I am confident that a decision will be made soon” regarding his talks with INDOT, Welch said during a Dec. 11 interview at his office in City Hall. “The benefit of having INDOT taking over the project is that it can move along more quickly because they can handle things such as right-of-way and other issues simultaneously. It would speed up the process. And I think as we get closer to completing the bridge project, there is more interest by INDOT in fixing the approach.”

“The fact that we had to split the approaches on each side of the river from the bridge
project itself is unfortunate because the approaches are unsafe.”

– Jan Vetrhus, Cornerstone Society President and resident of West Main Street

Welch said he has been told by the Bridge Project Team that the bridge slide is targeted to take place “sometime in late January. It would be great to be able to make an announcement about the bridge approach either right before or right after the bridge slide.”
Rather than wait on the state officials to get involved, several local government agencies and heads of private industry in Madison decided to move forward on their own. Led by local resident Mike Flint, they began meeting last year. Since the first step in such a project would be a mandatory federal environmental impact study, the group garnered financial support from various sources in the community in the form of pledges to pay for the $400,000 study.
In August, the Madison Redevelopment Commission, also known as the Tax Increment Financing board, unanimously approved paying for half of the amount, totaling $200,000. Even though the TIF zone is considered to be on the Madison hilltop, the commission can vote to spend money outside the zone if it deems the expenditure will have a direct impact on the zone.
The other half of the cost is being raised elsewhere, according to Welch. The Jefferson County Commission last June pledged $35,000, and the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County has pledged $50,000.
Welch said he is hopeful that additional money can be obtained from possible grants available through Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs because the stretch of roadway be improved by the project lies in what he calls “a blighted area.”
Ian Slatter, Communications Director at the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said a planning grant of up to $40,000 “is potentially available for this project, but no application has been received and consequently, no funds have been committed at this time.”

Welch
Welch

Welch and Flint both appeared before the Jefferson County Commission on Dec. 12 to request a commitment of funds for the study. During the meeting, Flint said several groups, including government and industry leaders, had been meeting and planned to set aside $365,000 of the $400,000 needed for the study. Such commitments, he said, would indicate to INDOT the local show of support to move forward on the project. He explained that the study would generate information about possible changes necessary to the area, with special attention given to the city’s National Historic Landmark District guidelines. Flint told the commission members that the funds for the study would be held in a separate account and only used if the project materialized.
Welch told the commission that his recent discussions with INDOT had gotten their attention, and that he is hopeful they will participate or eventually take over the project to help move it along more quickly. While not divulging information about his talks with INDOT, Welch assured commission members, “They are very interested in this project.”
Will Wingfield, Media Relations officer at INDOT, confirmed that his department has been in discussions with Welch about the bridge approach. “Since U.S. Hwy. 421 is a state highway, INDOT is discussing with Madison Mayor Welch taking on the engineering assessment and environmental-historical clearance for the project, but discussions are continuing.”
Flint declined a request to discuss the initiative, saying it was too premature for him to comment.
Meantime, some residents in the area of the bridge approach are hopeful that a new route from the bridge straight up to Hwy. 56 (Main Street) will take semi-truck traffic away from their homes. Jan Vetrhus lives at the corner of Second and Baltimore streets and says her house shakes every time a semi-truck passes, which is often. Semi-trucks already have been crossing the new bridge, ignoring the 15-ton weight limit because state police from both states are no longer monitoring and enforcing it.
“The fact that we had to split the approaches on each side of the river from the bridge project itself is unfortunate because the approaches are unsafe,” said Vetrhus, who serves as presidents of Cornerstone Society, a local preservationist organization.
The Bridge Replacement Project of the 83-year-old structure only covers the bridge span itself and does not include either approach. The issues regarding the approaches were left to be dealt with later by each state.
“I’m concerned about damage to the historic district, for school buses loading in the dark and the safety for motorists and truck drivers passing through. The current approach in Madison was certainly not designed for semi-trucks. We have good engineering solutions available and I hope we are moving toward using one of them,” Vetrhus said.
Rich Murray, former president of Cornerstone and a West Second Street resident near the bridge, also wants something done about truck traffic in the area but does not want to see a new re-routing of traffic go any closer to his house. In December, he wrote Indiana Gov. Mike Pence requesting that something be done. He says in the letter that his 175-year-old house already has cracks from the vibrations. He also urges the governor to involve Marsh Davis, executive director of Indiana Landmarks to help develop a plan to create a Madison “gateway” that would protect Madison’s historical resources.
Murray also voiced his concerns to the County Council in August during its discussion and eventual approval of funding the environmental impact study. At the meeting, Murray told the Council he feared that any rerouting traffic closer to his house would have further detrimental impacts to his home.

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