Bridge Project Kickoff

Getting the word out

Community now faced with challenge
of educating public on a 10-day closure

By Don Ward

(December 2010) – When is the Milton-Madison Bridge closing?
That question permeates much of the region, even though a decision was made in early October by Indiana Department of Transportation to hire a design-build team that plans to only shut down the bridge for a total of 10 days during the nearly two-year, $103 million bridge replacement project.
Problem is, no one knows that.

Milton-Madison Bridge

Photo by Don Ward

A public groundbreaking was held
Tuesday, Nov. 30, setting the two-year
bridge replacement project in motion.
Local officials welcomed governors
from Indiana and Kentucky and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood to Madison to officially
begin the $103 million project.

Folks as far away as Louisville and Indianapolis and Cincinnati still think that bridge is going to be closed for up to a year. They have likely decided not to travel to Madison during that time because of the impending inconvenience.
You can’t blame them, considering that’s all they’ve heard for the past two years as meeting after meeting was held to discuss alternative sites for building a new bridge, and then more meetings were held to instead discuss building a bridge on the existing piers due to budgetary constraints. The latter decision meant the existing bridge would likely have to be shut down for up to a year while a ferry service would carry traffic back and forth between Madison, Ind., and Milton, Ky.
The business communities on both sides of the Ohio River have been bracing for the worst as January 2011 approached. And despite a two-vessel, 24-hour, free ferry service to be operated at a cost of $5 million, no one really knew what to expect in terms of crossing time – especially during work and school rush hours.
Now as a Nov. 30 groundbreaking ceremony approaches, a huge sigh of relief has been settling across the region as word slowly spreads about the engineering miracle that is about to occur here. Walsh Construction Co. of La Porte, Ind., has teamed with Buckland & Taylor Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C. and designer Burgess & Niple Engineers of Columbus, Ohio, to develop a unique approach to replacing the 80-year-old structure that first opened in December 1929 during the Model T era. In recent years, the bridge has supported nearly 10,000 vehicles a day, including hundreds of heavily loaded semi-trucks, and has been rehabilitated twice to help extend its life. State inspectors have declared it “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.”
The plan calls for building a temporary bridge 15 feet downriver from the existing structure, then diverting traffic onto it while the old bridge is dismantled and a new superstructure is built atop the existing piers. Then traffic will be rerouted back onto the new bridge. Contractors plan to close the bridge for only five days in spring 2011 to reroute traffic to the temporary bridge, and close for another five days near the end of the project in late 2012 to slide the new bridge superstructure into place atop the existing but modernized piers. This engineering feat will involve a fleet of barges, tugboats, hydraulic jacks and mooring anchors – and likely draw a huge crowd of spectators. The innovative project to replace the 3,181-foot-long superstructure received a $20 million federal grant last February, with the remaining cost to be shared by both states. The project must be completed by September 2012, making it the fastest bridge ever to be built over the Ohio River.
Governors and dignitaries from both Kentucky and Indiana, along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood, are expected to attend the 11 a.m. groundbreaking event along the riverfront near Riverboat Inn to officially launch the history-making project. The project itself already has attracted the attention of several engineering magazines and architects who want to see how this project will be undertaken. While it has been done before, such a bridge sliding project has never been conducted on this magnitude, according to bridge consultants assisting in the effort.
Five design-build teams bid on the project, and the four losing bidders fully intended to use the full year bridge closure method. Only the winning bidder offered such a revolutionary approach to closing the bridge only 10 total days. Using a formula to calculate the economic impact averted due to the short closure time, the winning bid of $103 million also reduced the overall cost by roughly 20 percent, officials said.
Of course, the dramatic change in closure time forced bridge consultants to revisit the legally binding, 16-page agreement – the Memoranda of Agreement or MOA. This document already had been signed by all parties at various government levels. It spells out how much money will be provided to the local communities of Madison and Milton to offset any negative economic impacts experienced during the project.
Now a Dec. 7 meeting has been scheduled at Clifty Inn to review the agreement. At that meeting it will be determined whether Madison will still receive nearly a quarter-million dollars in bridge marketing funds and Milton will receive $40,000. Another $80,000 had been set aside for Madison Main Street Program over two years and $80,000 more to hire a Historic Preservation Officer over a two-year span. A determination about whether a ferry service is needed also will be addressed.
Officials with the project indicate that the money will still be provided, even with the short bridge closure. That message comes as a relief to local officials.
“I will be asking that they give us the same dollars as we were going to get with a full year bridge closure because now, even though the bridge won’t be closing for a year, we still need to get the word out that the bridge will not be closed for a long period of time,” said Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We will have to market against that because we are still getting calls here at the tourism office about the bridge being closed. We’ve got to start now getting the word out, but we can’t spend any money until the amended agreement is approved.”
Jan Vetrhus, who heads a Bridge Mitigation Committee made up of representatives from various agencies in Madison, said she has been told the money will be there. “We are confident that we will receive the monetary support we need to continue with our plans to help the community get through this bridge project, especially considering the economically hard times we are in. There are many positives to come out of this, the biggest being that our bridge will not in fact be closed for a year.”
Consultants with the project marvel at the fact that the bridge project, in the end, may not have such a huge economic impact on the region as previously thought but that the communities involved may still get to keep the money as if it would.
Given those facts and the mere novelty of this ambitious bridge replacement project that’s about to begin, Tuesday’s gathering at the Madison riverfront will truly be a “groundbreaking” event to remember.

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

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