Bridging Old & New Part 2 of 2

Kentucky plans $67 million
new bridge to span Ohio River

Don Ward

(July 2001) Madison, In – It doesn’t have a fancy name or bright lights or even a big sign announcing to passersby its existence.

Madison Milton Bridge

But for 72 years, it has stood as a silent, sturdy reminder of American ingenuity during one of the country’s lowest economic times, the Great Depression. In fact, the 72-year-old Ohio River Bridge, spanning the narrow river channel between Milton, Ky. and Madison, Ind., has been photographed and painted and sketched so many times, it has become part of the natural landscape.
Like the Broadway Fountain and Hanging Rock Hill, the Ohio River Bridge ranks as an obligatory subject for any local landscape artist’s portfolio. The bridge even made a cameo appearance in the opening scene of the 1959 movie, “Some Came Running,” and can be seen in film clips of the yet-to-be-released hydroplane movie “Madison,” shot on location in 1999.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to this man-made marvel, however, is the trust motorists place in the bridge’s steel beams and concrete floor each time they cross.
Recent discussions about the future of this old war horse or the construction of a future bridge have generated emotional reactions from both sides of the river. As is the case with such monstrous projects, those discussions and meetings with local officials have generated much alarm and confusion among some residents – especially among those likely to affected by a new bridge.
Kentucky, which owns the bridge and river, released a study in 1995 that presented three options – rehabilitate the existing bridge, build a new bridge at the end of Jefferson Street in Madison or build a new, $55 million, 2.8-mile bridge “50 to 100 feet” east of the existing bridge.
Last year, state transportation officials decided to go with the third option, based on “its short length, lowest total cost and community support,” the study said. It also crosses the least amount of farmland and low amounts of floodplain.
So when U.S. Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana requested a meeting with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials in April to review the 1995 plan, the fires of emotion were rekindled.
“There wasn’t anything new discussed at that meeting that wasn’t in the state’s Six-Year Highway Plan or that was released in the 1995 study. It’s not even an active project, but when you talk about a new bridge, it always gets people excited,” said John Callihan, a Transportation Cabinet planning branch manager who made the presentation April 24 in Madison to city, county and state officials from both states.
Callihan says it is too early to begin speculating about who might be affected by a future bridge. More than $5.5 million was made available for design alone in Kentucky’s current Six-Year Highway Plan. The plan is updated every two years with the next update to be approved by the Legislature in spring 2002. That design money won’t be used until fiscal year 2005, which begins in October 2004, he said.
Callihan expects more money to be earmarked in next year’s update of the Six-Year Plan for right-of-way acquisition. The project would still require several years and millions more to complete utility relocation and construction. Using 1995 dollars (not adjusted for today’s inflation), the project had a price tag of $67.340 million, including design.
Callihan estimated that under current projections, officials could enter the design phase of a four-lane bridge in fiscal year 2005, begin right-of-way acquisition in 2007, begin utility work in 2008 and begin construction in 2010. It would likely take two years to complete, extending the calendar to 2012 at the earliest.
A preliminary map in the 1995 study shows the bridge going in between Tiber Creek Hollow and the existing bridge in downtown Milton. The new road would then swing straight up the hill east of the existing road, cross McCord Lane on the hilltop and connect to Hwy. 421 one-half mile east of the Milton Lions Club curve.
On the Indiana side, the study called for crossing into Madison just east of Hwy. 421 and connecting directly with Hwy. 56.
“Just because we have a map doesn’t mean that’s where the road will go,” Callihan cautioned. “And we don’t know for sure how it would hook up with Hwy 56 in Madison. But it is unlikely that you would turn left on Second Street and then turn again to get to Main Street like it does now.”
He said the proposed “corridor” on the map could vary as much as 100 feet to either side. Furthermore, the land acquisition alone would take at least two years to complete and the money would have to be found for the project.
“This is a major financial commitment for the state of Kentucky, and how we work out the funding is a big question,” Callihan said.
Though many homes and businesses would be affected by a new bridge and roadway, most area residents say they must wait for more details before getting excited.
“I haven’t really seen any plans on this, but (the projected location) is obviously a place the bridge needs to go,” said Milton resident and business owner Bob Rowlett. “If you relocate, where do you relocate? We’ve been saying 10 years (for a new bridge) for 30 years. I wonder if we’ll live that long.”
Milton businessman Kenny McCoy said,” I doubt if I’ll even live that long to see a new bridge, and if I do, I’ll probably be too old to care where it goes in.”
Madison dentist Bob Canida, who lives 180 feet from the path of the projected new bridge site, said, “I think anyone who lives where they live wouldn’t want the bridge to run through. If it is for the benefit of the city, we’ll do what we need to do. Sometimes, it’s tough to separate personal bias from overall wisdom.”
Any new bridge is several years away, that is the only thing that’s for certain. As Callihan explained, “We were simply asked to come over to Madison and answer questions about the current Six-Year plan. We are not ready to handle questions from the public, but we want people to know that the Transportation Cabinet is committed to the new bridge, and we know it needs to be replaced. But we can’t tell people whose homes might be affected.”
As far as the future of the existing bridge, Callihan said the state “has no intention of maintaining two bridges.” He added that the old bridge may be handed over to local officials for use as a walking bridge or else it may be dismantled.
“Our objective is to replace this bridge because the lanes are too narrow, and it is functionally obsolete by today’s traffic standards.”

• For more information on future road projects and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Six-Year Highway Plan, visit the website: www.kytc.state.ky.us.

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