• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff 15

‘We want a bridge’, Weisenberger Bridge could reopen next August

ABOUT 75 PEOPLE attended a public meeting about the Weisenberger Mill Bridge at Northside Elementary last Thursday, Aug. 9. The project engineer said if all goes well, the one-lane bridge could reopen as early as this time next year. That’s not soon enough for most of the attendees, who say they’ve been inconvenienced on a regular basis since the bridge was closed for safety reasons in July 2016. (Photo by John McGary)

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineer Cory Jones sat quietly at a table in the Northside Elementary School gymnasium last Thursday, Aug. 9, and listened to people upset over the still-closed Weisenberger Mill Bridge.

Here are a few of their comments:

“That’s embarrassing.”

“When can I drive my car across the bridge?”

“This project’s taking nearly double the time it took to build the Golden Gate Bridge, with modern equipment that we have today. That’s astounding.”

(The Golden Gate Bridge actually took four years to build.)

A man wearing a green polo shirt and a smile asked several pointed questions.

“What’s your excuse? I mean, you’re with the highway department. Why?” he asked Jones.

“I haven’t really been involved in the process, like in all the meetings. Casey (Smith) is the project manager,” Jones replied.

“Tell me who’s responsible.”

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Jones said.

“So you don’t know who your boss is?”

Jones responded, “I know who my boss is. There’s a project team involved, which is more than just one person, so…”

“He keeps this great face. He’s very good at it,” the man said of Jones, then walked away.

Those comments and many others were made during a public meeting about the one-lane bridge, which opened in 1932 and which was closed in July 2016 for safety reasons. The historic “pony truss” bridge connects Scott and Woodford counties over Elkhorn Creek and is the quickest way to Lexington for nearby residents.

Jones was one of several Transportation Cabinet workers tasked with answering questions and listening to complaints from people regularly inconvenienced by the closure. State employees and others sat at tables labeled “construction,” “rights of way,” and “environmental” and fielded questions about their role in the project.

Don and Dottie Smith, who live in Scott County just past Elkhorn Creek, were among those asking why Transportation officials switched course on the type of bridge they’ll build there - a one-laner, just like the present bridge.

“(What) you’ve recommended this evening - that’s what the people wanted to begin with,” Dottie Smith said. “I suppose that means we should be happy now…”

Neither she nor her husband seemed too happy about the new plan.

“What really bothers me is that the three years to do that bridge shows a lack of concern by the decision-makers for the people that are inconvenienced by the bridge being out. And that hurts. I mean, the people I voted for are not building the bridge,” said Don Smith.

“We go to church on Pisgah Pike,” said Dottie Smith. “All of my family lives in Woodford County. And we’re out on Leestown Road, so I always took a right, went down Weisenberger (Mill Road) and then over to Pisgah Pike. It’s difficult - we have a farm gate on Leestown Road, so it’s very difficult to take a left because the traffic’s gotten so much worse…” she said.

Next to Jones was Casey Smith, the project engineer for the bridge, who said the environmental review process should be finished in December, after which the Transportation Cabinet will begin seeking right of way and utility easements.

“Depending on how well that goes, it could be spring of next year when we actually can start construction. Everything has to be cleared by that point before we can even start,” Smith said. After that, construction could take six months, but Smith said it was possible the bridge could reopen “about this time next year.”

“It’s created a huge inconvenience for people, particularly people in the Zion Hill area. The detour is through a small county road. So what I’ve been telling them is what we’re trying to do is … expedite the schedule as quickly as we can and get this bridge built and open again,” Smith said, adding, “not everyone, of course, will be happy.”

LaDona Hudson, whose Elkhorn Bend Farm is on the Woodford County side of Weisenberger Mill Road near the bridge, was one of those unhappy people.

“The first thing I want to know is when are you going to do this,” Hudson asked another Transportation Cabinet employee. After his answer, she talked about how the bridge’s closure has affected her.

“I train racehorses, so to get to the track, I have to go back through Midway and then down Leestown Road, which is a very crowded, rough road, and it’s another 15 miles a day… (it’s) very inconvenient,” Hudson said. “It takes me an additional 45 minutes to an hour.”

Hudson was one of two people who cited the plight of Zion Hill residents, several of whom sat in the bleachers watching people move from table to table. Zion Hill is a historically black community in Scott County near the bridge whose residents have felt short-changed by the project’s slow pace.

“We want a bridge. We’re tired of getting the in and out; the way we’re getting in and out this morning was disgusting. We went up Old Frankfort Road. It was blocked. We went up Leestown Road, it was blocked. It’s too much, too much, too expensive, too much trouble,” Ollie Raglin said.

Asked whether she cared how wide the bridge is, she said she didn’t.

“As long as we can get in and out. They can put a top on it as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Evelyn Raglin agreed. Asked how she was affected by the 25-month-closure, she said, “Are you kidding? I have to drive miles out of the way just to get where I’m going.”

Told the bridge could be reopened next August, she replied, “I just hope I live long enough to see it.”

Ollie Raglin said she’d prefer to see it reopen next week, to which Evelyn Raglin responded, “Or yesterday.”

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