Safety concerns arise about widening bridge
Woodford County resident Bryan Pryor says he and his neighbors are not opposed to replacing the Weisenberger Mill Bridge. The bridge was built in 1930 and they know it needs to be replaced for safety reasons. "Yes, the bridge needs to be replaced," said Pryor, "but the bridge needs to be replaced responsibly." He said a state plan to replace the existing one-lane bridge with a two-lane bridge would make the road less safe for motorists and pedestrians, who regularly come to the area for outdoor recreation and its scenic beauty. A sharp curve in the roadway immediately after crossing the bridge on the Woodford County side makes for a difficult turn - especially when motorists coming from Scott County are reaching speeds that exceed the posted speed limit of 35 mph. Because of the one-lane bridge, Pryor said motorists slow their speed before reaching the sharp curve on the Woodford County side of Weisenberger Mill Road where he lives. "These cars . come pretty fast down this hill into that (one-lane) bridge, and then they slow down when they see it," said Mac Weisenberger, the fifth generation in his family to own Weisenberger Mill. "But if they see that two-lane bridge, I feel like they're going to just go right into that 90-degree turn" at higher speeds. With the existing one-lane bridge, Weisenberger said, "I don't see many accidents, but I hear (motorists) slam on their brakes every day" when they see a vehicle crossing the bridge from Woodford County. "If it's opened up for two (lanes of traffic), they're not going to put their brakes on until they hit that curve over there," he said. "And then it's going to be too late, I'm afraid." So from a safety standpoint, Weisenberger said he favors a new one-lane bridge. "They're using the same approaches to a one-lane bridge for a two-lane bridge without any consideration for the safety of either end of it," he said. "And they're opening up an avenue for trucks to run between I-64 to the Blue Grass Parkway." He said the higher weight limit for a new two-lane bridge will turn Weisenberger Mill Road and other rural roadways in the area into shortcuts for large trucks. The state road plan includes $1.38 million to replace the Weisenberger Mill Road Bridge. As of now, Project Manager Ananias Calvin III said the state Transportation Cabinet anticipates accepting bids on the bridge replacement project from contractors in October. Calvin said the existing bridge will likely be replaced in one construction season, which typically runs from March to November. He said work could begin as early as December with the new two-lane bridge being opened for traffic by the end of next year if all goes as anticipated. "You hate to put back a single-lane bridge on a road that's two lanes," said Calvin when asked about the state's rationale for widening the bridge. He acknowledged the safety concerns related to installing a two-lane bridge at a location where the existing one-lane bridge helps to slow traffic entering the 90-degree curve on the Woodford County side of Weisenberger Mill Road. In addition to installing a sign to inform those motorists of the sharp curve and the need to slow down to 15 mph, Calvin said other traffic slowing devices such as rumble strips - to make motorists aware of the curve - may also be considered. Calvin said he has not contacted any property owners about acquiring rights-of-way because the state has not determined how much additional right-of-way will be needed to proceed with the bridge replacement project. In the last two years that Pryor has owned his Woodford County property near the bridge, he estimated that traffic has doubled on Weisenberger Mill Road, which he said is already being used as a shortcut by motorists. The one-lane bridge's weight limit was reduced from 10 to 3 tons because of its deteriorating condition, but large 2-ton pickup trucks pulling horse trailers continue to drive across the existing bridge, Pryor said. And he said traffic will only increase with a new two-lane bridge. Pryor said widening a new one-lane bridge from eight to 12 feet does make sense from a safety standpoint, and he also supports adding pedestrian walkways for people coming to the scenic area for photographs and other activities. On weekends, two or three cars are sometimes parked along the roadway, with people fishing and kayaking on South Elkhorn Creek - below the Weisenberger Mill Bridge that connects Scott and Woodford counties, Pryor said. The area's scenic beauty attracts people. "I have people come out here every day," said Weisenberger. "They'll get out of their cars and they'll walk up on the bridge and they'll look (around at the scenery)." A historic stone wall located on Pryor's property near the roadway's sharp curve was destroyed by a tractor-trailer in February 2015. It will cost thousands of dollars to fix the damaged historic stone wall with millstone that - unlike the original millstone - will have no history to the area or Weisenberger Mill, Pryor said. He said the settlement agreement with a trucking company will allow repairs to happen, but he's apprehensive about making those costly repairs because of the state's plan to replace the one-lane bridge with a two-lane bridge. And he said any notion of relocating his stone wall - so it's further away from the dangerous curve in the roadway - has fallen on deaf ears. "I'm not against (replacing the bridge). I don't want to be seen as one of those (people who are) preventing progress or (who are) more concerned about history than people's safety. That's not what I'm about," but Pryor said any decision about replacing the Weisenberger Mill Bridge should not be made in a vacuum without careful consideration of all factors. "They've asked for input (from the public at meetings) and nothing sticks," Weisenberger said.