• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Progress, but no start date to replace historic bridge

Isaac Hughes spent several of his evenings last week either at the Weisenberger Mill Bridge or discussing it.

On Tuesday, May 5, he was one of several Zion Hill residents taking part in a sometimes-heated discussion about the bridge just a few feet away from the historic structure, which was built in 1932 and closed by the state nearly two years ago. Hughes and others were concerned that the desire for a one-lane replacement by several people who live near the bridge was holding up the start date. The following day, his message for state Transportation Cabinet officials and Scott and Woodford County leaders was, “Look, you all forgot about us. We don’t matter to you all. We are a historical black neighborhood and you’re taking us back to a long time ago.”

Zion Hill is a small Scott County community in a valley just a few hundred yards away from the bridge, which many of its citizens drove across to get to and from Scott and Fayette counties. In late July 2016, a few weeks after the bridge was declared unsafe and closed, Woodford Fiscal Court approved an agreement with the Georgetown-Scott County EMS Department to take over emergency services in the Zion Hill area.

Hughes and others say sometimes, ambulance service is still too slow, and that Scott County EMS crews occasionally arrive before their Woodford County counterparts.

“We’re saying, ‘We don’t care if it’s one lane or ten. Fix what we’ve got now and then argue about one lane later. You can take 10 years and argue about one lane. Why can’t they fix the bridge we have now? I don’t care if they put a Band-Aid on it, just make it safe for cars to go across. That’s all we ask,” Hughes told the Sun. “Open it up, and if it’s one lane down the road, we’re fine with that. We have no problem. If that’s what pleases the people in Woodford County, go ahead and make it one lane. We’re fine with that. … But we want a bridge we can cross.”

Hughes and those with similar goals got some encouraging news on Thursday, May 7, at Northside Elementary. The gathering was a meeting of the “Section 106 Consulting Party,” which includes citizens from Scott and Woodford counties, elected officials, and representatives of historical and environmental groups. (“Section 106” refers to a passage in the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies to take into account the impact of their policies on historic properties.)

A few dozen members of the public attended, but were asked to withhold their comments until the meeting ended.

State officials announced that the one-lane, 12-feet-wide replacement looking very much like the 86-year-old present bridge was now an option, along with a two-lane bridge. A 30-day comment period for the consulting party has begun and will include input from non-members. Based on comments at the meeting, it seems likely that the consulting party will recommend the one-lane option, which will require far less work on bridge approaches from either side and, at $480,000, cost about a third of the two-lane replacement.

Project Manager Casey Smith said the bridge replacement could begin as soon as next summer, depending on right-of-way acquisitions, utility work, and final historical and environmental reviews. The project, which would be paid for with federal highway dollars, would take about six months to finish, he said.

Smith said a public meeting on the project is likely, but a date for it has not been set.

Just before the Thursday meeting began, Hughes was approached by a public relations official with the Transportation Cabinet, who asked if he’d like to join the consulting party. Hughes signed up, but later said he still wondered whether the concerns of Zion Hill residents mattered to officials.

Hughes told the Sun that his great-grandfather led mules carrying rock from Lexington to the dam on South Elkhorn Creek, which made the famous mill on the Scott County side possible.

“If there was no Zion Hill, there’d be no dam and no mill,” Hughes said. “We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the 60s and 70s, when we didn’t get any service. And it’s almost like with the bridge shut down, that’s an indication that history is repeating itself.”

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