Historic Repeated

Nov. 22, 2010

Less than two months after the Black Tuesday stock market crash triggered the Great Depression, the people of Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., came together in December 1929 to celebrate the grand opening of a new 3,184-ft-long toll bridge that connected their small Ohio River communities.

Comparing it with the ferry that had provided the only river crossing until then, a newspaper ad at the time boasted, “No waiting, day or night,” and promised the bridge was “direct, time-saving and safe.”

Less than two months after the Black Tuesday stock market crash triggered the Great Depression, the people of Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., came together in December 1929 to celebrate the grand opening of a new 3,184-ft-long toll bridge that connected their small Ohio River communities.

Comparing it with the ferry that had provided the only river crossing until then, a newspaper ad at the time boasted, “No waiting, day or night,” and promised the bridge was “direct, time-saving and safe.”

The steel-truss cantilever bridge was a good fit for the Model A Fords and tobacco wagons that provided its early traffic. But eight decades and millions of vehicle crossings later, the narrow bridge is deteriorated and obsolete, its 20-ft-wide deck unable to handle modern traffic.

The project to replace a Depression-era bridge gained sudden momentum as a result of the recession of 2009. With new federal funding available to stimulate construction of transportation infrastructure, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) aggressively pursued a share for the Milton-Madison Bridge Project.

“We originally planned to finish our environmental document in 2012. But because of a compressed project timeline, we’ll all be driving on a safe new bridge in 2012,” said Kevin Hetrick, INDOT’s project manager. “It’s been fascinating seeing it all come together.”

“It’s certainly been an interesting ride,” added Gary Valentine, who manages the project for KYTC. “We faced urgent problems with the existing bridge, extreme caution with the area’s unique historic districts, the controversial closing of the bridge and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.”

By the 1990s, deterioration of the trusses became more prevalent and its days were numbered. A bridge study started in 1995, but a routine bridge inspection found deficiencies that required immediate attention. A $10 million rehabilitation project began and plans for a new bridge were put on hold.

Then, in early 2008, KYTC and INDOT launched a second bridge study with the goal of completing an environmental document in three years and finding a safe, affordable way to connect Milton and Madison.

Sensitive district
A major change occurred after the 1995 study. Madison became a National Historic Landmark District in 2006—its entire downtown area on the National Historic Register, including more than 2,000 structures.

“Tourists are drawn to downtown Madison. It’s picturesque, like stepping back in time,” said John Carr, project manager for Wilbur Smith Associates, the firm selected to provide consultant engineering and environmental services for the bistate project. “The historic significance of both towns was never far from our minds.”

Madison’s neighbor to the south, Milton is one of the oldest towns in the commonwealth, with two National Historic Districts. The Milton-Madison Bridge also is historic—the sole remaining bridge built by J.G. White through the National Toll Bridge Co.

Because both towns are historically significant, the project team carefully approached issues relating to impacts on historic resources. Input was sought from organizations and individuals to identify historic resources and assess potential impacts by the project.

Options and challenges
By fall 2008, the project was making strides. Its extensive public-involvement process engaged the public through the establishment of a Project Advisory Group (PAG), a group representative of the stakeholders.

The community, already somewhat skeptical following the stalled 1995 bridge study, showed great interest in the project. From the start, citizens turned out in such great numbers for monthly PAG meetings that the meeting format was adapted to allow time for the public to comment on the process.

The PAG was instrumental in helping the project team outline the deficiencies of the existing bridge and its approaches. The PAG detailed, for example, how sideswipes occurred when semitrucks and large vehicles met on the bridge. In an effort to expedite the process, the project team held simultaneous location-alternative screening and bridge-type selection meetings with the PAG and the public.

The superstructure-replacement alternative presented the quickest solution to replacing the rapidly deteriorating bridge, but it would require closing the bridge for up to a year during construction.

The other option, building a new bridge at a new location, came with its own problems: steering clear of the National Historic Landmark District in Madison and Milton’s Historic Districts. A new location also would require approach roadways, increasing project costs.

As the project team, the PAG and the public weighed the merits of various alternatives, the condition of the existing bridge grew worse. KYTC imposed a 15-ton weight limit on the structure after a biennial inspection indicated advanced deterioration of various components, including gusset plates. Even after critical repairs were made in the summer of 2009, an in-depth follow-up inspection resulted in the bridge’s condition being rated “poor.” The superstructure showed signs of advanced deterioration in the form of rust and weakening steel.

Double wide
In mid-August 2009, after more than a year of environmental studies plus community, state and federal agency input, KYTC and INDOT announced that superstructure replacement would be the fastest and most cost-effective solution to building a new bridge.

“As we followed the NEPA process, it became clear that superstructure replacement was our best option,” said Valentine. “We feel it’s the most feasible and responsible alternative with the least impact overall.”

Superstructure replacement involves building a new, wider steel superstructure atop the existing piers. The new bridge will be similar in appearance to the existing truss structure but widened to 40 ft. It will include two 12-ft lanes, 8-ft shoulders and a 5-ft sidewalk cantilevered to the downstream side of the trusses.

The existing piers will be modified to support the wider superstructure, and the approaches to the bridge will be slightly widened. No right-of-way acquisitions are needed for the project, since its footprint is entirely contained within the existing right-of-way.

“Inspections and analysis showed that the existing piers are structurally sound enough to accommodate a wider structure and would have a life expectancy of 75-plus years,” said Aaron Stover of Michael Baker Jr. Inc., structural subconsultant on the Wilber Smith Associates’ team.

To cover part of the estimated $131 million cost of the superstructure replacement, KYTC and INDOT were awarded $20 million in funding from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant in February 2010. The U.S. Department of Transportation made $1.5 billion in TIGER grants available to state and local governments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The factors that led to superstructure replacement were:

  • Condition of the existing bridge: This became increasingly urgent after inspectors concluded the bridge had a remaining life of approximately 10 years;
  • Cost: At $131 million superstructure replacement would cost far less than a new bridge in a new location, estimated at $189 million to $219 million;
  • Environmental impacts revealed through the NEPA process: Superstructure replacement has minimal impacts on the environment and historic resources; and
  • Timing: Because no property will be taken, superstructure replacement eliminates the need for time-consuming right-of-way acquisition. Superstructure replacement also is the only alternative that could meet the TIGER grant requirement that projects begin work quickly and be substantially complete in 2012.

“Once we decided to pursue superstructure replacement, we were able to compress the time frame for the project using accelerated NEPA and 6002 consultation processes,” explained Carr. “It took less time because this alternative has minimal impacts on the environment and historic properties. In my 38-year career, this is the fastest I’ve ever seen a bridge project come together.”

“Even with a more traditional time frame, we would still have arrived at the same outcome,” added Valentine. “The opportunity for the TIGER grant may have accelerated the process, but it did not guide the process.”

History repeats itself
During the federally required Section 106 Historic Consultation Process, the project developed a memorandum of agreement outlining mitigation measures to help offset the adverse effects of superstructure replacement and the temporary bridge closure. Except for the necessary removal of the existing historic trusses, superstructure replacement would have no direct effect on historic properties in Madison and Milton.

To help cope with the disruption of the year-long bridge closure, the team reached back into history by deciding to provide a free ferry service to accommodate some of the 11,000 drivers who use the bridge each day and to soften the economic impact on the communities.

The ferry service can handle 40% of the vehicles that cross the bridge daily. Other vehicles are expected to use the nearest Ohio River crossings: 26 miles upstream at the Markland Dam Bridge and 46 miles downstream in Louisville. To get the most from the ferry service, drivers are being encouraged to try car- and vanpooling, and area businesses may consider staggered shifts.

Additional mitigation measures include innovative contracting to reduce the time the bridge is closed, construction of a truss bridge similar to the original, and robust tourism and regional marketing campaigns to keep visitors coming to the area before, during and after the bridge closure.

Innovative approach
With the project’s environmental assessment complete and a finding of no significant impact, the announcement came this February that the Milton-Madison Bridge Project was awarded $20 million of the requested $95 million in TIGER grant funding. Kentucky and Indiana will evenly absorb the remaining cost.

“We appreciate the opportunity this grant gives us to help provide a safe new bridge for the people of Milton and Madison in a short amount of time,” said Valentine.

INDOT is using an innovative design-build approach to shorten completion time for the project. The design-build team will consist of a qualified engineering firm and contractor. Detailed information on the design-build project is available on the INDOT website (www.indot.in.gov/div/contracts/letting). Construction efforts are expected to begin this fall.

“Design-build is fast, but we will not compromise quality and safety,” said Hetrick. “Inspectors will monitor every step of construction.”

While the contractors will be permitted to close the bridge to traffic for a maximum of 12 months, efforts will be made to shorten the closure time. A free ferry service across the Ohio River will be offered when the bridge closes to traffic.

“We’re hoping contractors will come up with some creative ideas that will minimize the amount of time the bridge will be closed,” said Kevin Hetrick. “This bridge is a lifeline for these two communities.”

About The Author: Francis, a senior public relations strategist with Doe-Anderson, works in public involvement for Wilbur Smith Associates on the Milton-Madison Bridge Project. She can be reached at [email protected].

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