County decides to close old bridge

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State backs away from replacement

By Lisa King

Historic Who Da Thot It Bridge, shut down Monday for safety reasons, may now be closed to vehicle traffic forever.
Magistrates voted Tuesday morning at the meeting of Shelby County Fiscal Court to call a public hearing to close the bridge after discussing the merits of trying to get the structure repaired or replaced.

County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said he got a call two weeks ago from state officials informing him that bridge inspectors judged the bridge was unsafe and that the county needed to either repair it, replace it or close it.

He added that the repairs would include replacing metal plating and addressing the embankment for the bridge, which had started to shift.

The bridge, which crosses Clear Creek and links downtown Shelbyville at the northern end of 5th Street, has been in disrepair for years and in July 2010 was scheduled by state transportation officials to be replaced on a 2-year, $17 million biennial road plan.

Officials said at that time that the replacement, budgeted for $940,000, was fully funded by federal grants and state bonds, as were eight other listed projects.

But on Tuesday Andrea Clifford, spokesperson for the Transportation Cabinet’s District 5, said the project was of a low priority and that the last time the bridge was inspected, in the spring, the state’s project team reported that the bridge was not worth the repair cost and withdrew the funding.

“Two of our engineers met with Judge Rothenburger to discuss the problems with this structure,” she said. “Several options were considered, but the project team has recommended the ‘no build’ option because of the approach issues to the bridge, the costs to address the structure and the approaches and the fact that this creek can be crossed at a much better bridge just west of this location.

“The average daily traffic on this roadway is less than 100 vehicles. Our recommendation is to close the bridge for safety reasons and to keep it closed due to the extremely low traffic volume and replacement costs.”

With replacement funding shelved, she said engineers recently quoted $226,000 to Rothenburger as their estimate to repair the bridge to the point that it could continue to function as it has been.

But magistrates unanimously agreed that they didn’t want to spend that much on the bridge.

Magistrate Michael Riggs summed it up.

“Big trucks can’t use it,” he said. “It has a weight limit excluding them. It serves only one house, and it would cost us a quarter of a million dollars to fix it.”

Rothenburger said even if the bridge were to be repaired and made structurally sound, it would still be functionally obsolete by state standards.

“Even if we did repair it, we would still have only a one-lane bridge,” he said.

Rothenburger said at the meeting that he realizes that some people like to travel over the bridge just because of the scenic opportunity it offers.

Magistrates said they have not received any calls from constituents about the bridge closing since news first broke on Sunday, so they voted to schedule the required public hearing before the bridge can be closed permanently.

Rothenburger said he needs to review KRS statutes before scheduling that hearing.

“There are specific statutes to deal with closures on public roads, and you have to give ‘x’ number of days for that,” he said.