• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Weisenberger Bridge could reopen in October 2017


IF THERE'S AN upside to the closure of Weisenberger Mill Bridge for people who live nearby or travel there to fish or admire the scenery, it's knowing they don't have to worry about being struck by a vehicle while on the 86-year-old structure. (Photo by John McGary)

It will be at least October of next year before the Weisenberger Mill Bridge, closed July 1, will be rebuilt - and then, despite the wishes of many, the new bridge will almost certainly be two lanes wide. The state Transportation Cabinet closed the 86-year-old pony truss bridge July 1 after an inspection days before revealed "advance deterioration." In December of 2015, they changed the weight limit of the bridge from 10 tons to three, but nearby residents say they saw much heavier vehicles cross the one-lane, 72-feet-long bridge on a regular basis. Project Manager Ananias Calvin III of the state Transportation Cabinet told The Sun that the projected start date for the project has been pushed back from October to January. "That's . because to widen the bridge from a single lane to a two-lane, we're going to have to purchase some property. It's really going to be minor acquisitions, so it won't be a lot, but it's going to be some ." Calvin said. Parcels on all four corners of the bridge will have to be purchased, Calvin said. "Hopefully we'll get to talk to all the property owners pretty soon to tell them what's going on ." Calvin said. Two public meetings on the issue were held, and no more are planned, though Calvin said he's happy to listen to concerned citizens. Some folks who live near the bridge on the Woodford County side don't mind the closure, though it makes for a slightly longer trip to places like Masterson Station or the Kentucky Horse Park. They say that's a fair trade for less traffic and not having to worry about drivers, many of whom aren't aware of the near-90 degree turn just on the Woodford County side, exceeding the 35 mph limit. Most, like Doug Elam, who lives two houses up from the bridge on the Woodford County side, don't want a two-lane bridge because it will just allow more drivers to speed. "We need a bridge. The local community needs a bridge. But we don't need a bypass for people coming from Anderson and surrounding counties through here to get to Toyota," Elam said. "We don't need it to be a bypass for people coming off the Blue Grass Parkway going to Georgetown." The community hasn't grown much in 50 years, he said, "So why do we need to increase the bridge from one lane to two lanes?" Asked whether he'd rather see the bridge remain closed than be replaced by a two-lane structure, Elam said yes. Even after the weight limit was dropped from 10 tons to three, Elam and others say they saw tractor-trailers and other overweight vehicles cross the bridge. One neighbor said while state officials were making the inspection that led to the closure, two tractor-trailers drove over it. They've become accustomed to seeing drivers hoping to turn right from Paynes Depot Road onto Weisenberger Mill Road pause, then reluctantly make a left. Early Sunday evening, three cars in less than 15 minutes did just that. One was an SUV driven by Taylor Morrow, who'd come from Lawrenceburg with friend Jeri Riley to fish for bluegill and bass in the South Elkhorn Creek near the bridge. Morrow said she'd heard the bridge had been closed, but was hoping it had reopened. They drove off to look for another place to fish. Others drive closer to make sure the bridge is closed, then turn around in private driveways. The Elams and other area residents say there should be signs on Pisgah Pike and Paynes Depot Road warning of the closure, and a 35 mph sign nearer the bridge on the Woodford County side. Cathy Elam said a 2014 truck wreck took out part of a historic stone fence that wasn't repaired until shortly before the bridge was shut down. Doug Elam and others say the best solution would be to widen the bridge just enough to allow for pedestrians and bicyclists to use it, too. Calvin heard such concerns at two public meetings on the matter, and knows the state's decision won't please everybody. "Two lanes is probably what it's going to be," Calvin said, adding that state and federal standards (state officials are hoping for some federal funds to help pay for the $1.38 million project) mandate that a two-lane bridge be installed on a two-lane road. As for space for bicycles or pedestrians, Calvin said, "It would look really funny if you did that just across the bridge. ... Have you ever seen a bridge that has space for people to stand, and they can't get to it? No sidewalk (leading to it)? That wouldn't be right to do." Calvin said widening the bridge should make it safer for non-motorists to cross, especially bicyclists. In May, Calvin told The Sun that in addition to installing a sign to inform drivers of the sharp curve and to slow down to 15 mph, other traffic-slowing devices like rumble strips may be considered. Meantime, Scott and Woodford County officials have had to change one safety-related policy: At the July 26 Woodford Fiscal Court meeting, the court unanimously endorsed a request to take over emergency services in the Zion Hill area from the Georgetown-Scott County Emergency Medical Services department. Woodford County Road Engineer Buan Smith said three or four years ago, the state agreed to pay for a new Weisenberger Mill Bridge in return for the county paying to rebuild the Millville Bridge. The Millville Bridge was finished two years ago, Smith said. On Monday, Calvin said if the property purchases and contractor purchases go smoothly, the new, two-lane Weisenberger Mill Bridge could be finished by October 2017 - nearly 15 months after it was closed. "That's kind of disappointing to me, but I'm not running the project, or paying for it," Smith said.

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