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Shelby County Fiscal Court is moving quickly this week to close the Who Da Thot It Bridge – commonly called Jail Hill Bridge – that historic span connecting downtown Shelbyville north from 5th Street. In fact, even as you read this, the bridge already may be closed.
Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger cited a recent inspection of the bridge by the state as his basis for asking magistrates on Tuesday morning for an executive order to close the bridge immediately as a matter of public safety.
Certainly that is the appropriate response.
The bridge has been rickety for decades, a temporary replacement from the 1970s after the bottom fell out of the old iron bridge that for generations provided a crossing of Clear Creek on what was then a primary thoroughfare.
No resident should be at risk because of a frail infrastructure. The horror of what happened a few years ago on I-94 in Minneapolis is still far too vivid in most of our memories.
That said, however, there appears another scary issue is at play here too:
Mr. Rothenburger said that he believes the bridge should be closed permanently, that neither the state nor the county could afford to build a sturdy new replacement.
And we don’t understand why that would be the case or why magistrates would find that acceptable.
In July 2010, the state Transportation Cabinet announced its 2-year road/bridge repair plan – the 2010-2012 Biennial Highway Construction Plan – in which Shelby County was designated for $17 million worth of projects, including the replacement of three bridges, one of which was the Who Da Thot It Bridge.
The plan was said to be fully funded by federal grants and state bonds. It was signed by Gov. Steve Beshear.
State Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) and others at the time were ecstatic in their joy that Shelby County had earned these improvements and embraced them as rewards for a lot of hard work.
To us this announcement was a contract with the citizens, and to close Who Da Thot It Bridge permanently feels like this contract is being broken.
Why should taxpayers be OK with that?
This biennial plan budgeted $940,000 for the Who Da Thot It Bridge, but Mr. Rothenburger now cites a cost of $1.1 million to replace the bridge.
And though we haven’t seen this estimate or know from whom it came, he says that the project now is too expensive for the state to manage and that Shelby County can’t afford to pay for the repairs, either.
We agree that the county can’t and shouldn’t pay for this project, primarily because the state already signed a contract to do so.
But we also question whether the additional $170,000 that he cited for the repairs would be too much for the state to cover.
In the scope of just Shelby County’s nine announced road projects, that’s about 1 percent in cost overrun, hardly a big deal by government standards, especially when you consider this is the same agency that spent more than $24 million on the Shelbyville Bypass and allowed it to take more than five years to be built.
We believe residents – and their elected leaders – should ask these questions and require answers and to do so now, not waiting for the repairs and closing to languish without answers from state officials.
A public hearing would have to be held to take comment on whether the permanent closing is a good idea, and even then the people’s opinions could be overruled, we would guess, by legislative process.
But we believe the bottom line is this:
The state said it would replace the bridge. After the bridge is closed for required repairs, we believe the first priority of our leaders should be to hold those state officials to their agreement.