BURGIN — Throngs of Mercer and Garrard County residents filed into the gymnasium at Burgin School on Tuesday night to get information on a bridge replacement project that could seriously impact their daily lives.
The public meeting was conducted by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. It gave people a look at two possible scenarios for rebuilding Kennedy Bridge where Ky. 152 crosses Herrington Lake at the Mercer-Garrard line near Pandora Marina and allowed them to give input.
The cabinet and consultant WMB Inc. are considering either building another bridge adjacent to the current one but downstream, which would allow the current bridge to stay open, or replacing the bridge at its existing location, require the bridge to be closed likely for more than a year. Two alternatives for new bridges — one spanning the lake between Chimney Rock Marina and Kamp Kennedy Marina, and another farther downstream — have both been ruled out. Most who attended Tuesday’s informational meeting said they understand reasons for the project much better but still dread the possibility of losing local access if the existing bridge is replaced.
Bill and Donna Rulon live on Persimmon Way off Ashley Camp Road but also have a son and daughter-in-law who live on the Garrard County side for whom Donna helps babysit on a regular basis. They sometimes cross the bridge more than 10 times a day.
“We’re back and forth on the bridge constantly,” said Donna Rulon. “If they close it, instead of a 10-minute drive, it becomes a 30-minute drive.”
State Rep. Kim King was also on hand to gather more information on a project she has been asked about repeatedly by worried constituents.
“People are scared to death about what it will do to them, especially if gas goes from $4 to $5 a gallon,” King said. “They don’t want to have to drive a half hour out of the way.”
Charles Raymer, a WBM consultant who retired from the Transportation Cabinet in 2000, said the bridge has had problems since the six-span steel structure replaced a wooden crossing in 1924.
In 1932, it was discovered that one of the piers on the Mercer County side had risen about 16 inches, and by 1936 it had risen a total of 30 inches and tilted toward the Mercer County side by about a foot. The bridge was reinforced with additional steel, and there have been multiple repairs ever since.
To find out what caused a rise in the structure, which spans a 250-300 foot gorge, one of the deepest stretches of water in the state, a geotechnical study will be conducted later this month. Raymer said the study, which will include drilling into one of the hollow piers, should provide information on how to proceed. The bridge will be closed later this month for the study to take place. Raymer said the bridge will be shut down starting April 16 for two or three weeks.
Those who have lived in the area for years have experience with the attempts to address the structural problems with the bridge and its closure. Patti Hard, a resident of Chimney Rock Road, remembers the problems caused when the road was closed for a repair project for six months in 2009.
“It was very taxing for all of us,” said Hard. “It was a hardship because you had to take (U.S.) 68 instead, which is a winding road, and because it was winter, the road conditions were already bad.”
In 2011, a data needs analysis was performed to determine the scope of the project, including potential costs. The construction cost for a new bridge at the current location, as included in the state’s 2010 biennial road plan, was about $6.4 million, while the cost for a new bridge downstream was about $11 million.
The current version of the biennial road plan has $8.3 million slated for construction funds.
While most don’t dispute the need for a new or refurbished bridge, they say the impact on their lives and finances should be considered along with the ultimate cost of the project.
In addition to year-round residents, there were several people at the meeting who have lake property and use the bridge on a regular basis.
Chris Neal recently retired and has a home next to the bridge on the Garrard side where he was hoping to move.
He said there are projects, including building a new water line, he is holding off on because of uncertainty about the project.
Natasha Lacy, spokeswoman for the Transportation Cabinet, said the state is required to hold at least one meeting about the project, but there will likely be another one later in the year once plans become final.