DISCUSSING BRIDGE PROJECT: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Madison City Hall on Monday to discuss the Madison-Milton bridge project. LaHood was in the area at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Indiana). (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
DISCUSSING BRIDGE PROJECT: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Madison City Hall on Monday to discuss the Madison-Milton bridge project. LaHood was in the area at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Indiana). (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Indiana and Kentucky will split the $111 million still needed to replace the Madison-Milton bridge, the Indiana Department of Transportation chief of staff said Monday during a visit by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. LaHood was driven across the bridge and said afterward that he was "scared to death."

The commitments by Indiana and Kentucky mean that "if all goes according to plan," chief of staff Bob Zier said, work will begin this summer.

INDOT and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials will meet in the next few weeks "to find how to get the rest of the money," Zier said. He said Indiana's share will come from what he said is called "Money Bags." He said the money is already in-house but decisions on where to take it from need to be made.

LaHood said there might be three possible sources of federal funds that will become available: a $4 billion "infrastructure fund" or "infrastructure bank" in President Barack Obama's budget that Congress must approve; another jobs bill; and the Transportation Department authorization bill, which is its budget.

"There's going to be several pots of money that you all need to look at," he said.

Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens said that Indiana's commitment of the money "is a very key thing."

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear has pledged that his state will fund its share. "Kentucky stands good for their commitment," Stevens said. Beshear said last week that Kentucky could use $89 million in federal bridge replacement funds to ensure full funding. (See related story.)

Stevens said that some of the 51 projects that received TIGER grants - out of 1,400 that applied - are for convenience. That's not the case with the Madison-Milton bridge, he said. "It's straight necessity," Stevens said.

Indiana and Kentucky together received a $20 million federal stimulus grant through LaHood's department for the bridge, which is expected to cost $131 million.

One of the first steps will be to enlarge the piers. Zier said this will entail "a lot of work on the piers." The bridge will remain open to traffic during the pier work.

Also next summer, probably in June, a ferry company that will be chosen by competitive bidding is likely to begin preparing the docks on both sides of the Ohio River, acquiring ferry boats and planning the details of the free ferry service.

Phil Mullins of Madison, who was at the LaHood visit, said outside the gathering that he has formed Milton-Madison Ferry and intends to bid on the contract to provide ferry service. He said the current timetable by bridge planners is for vehicles to stop using the bridge and for the ferry service to start in February of next year. Replacement of the bridge superstructure would be completed about a year later. He also has reserved the name Madison Milton Ferry LLC with the Indiana secretary of state's office until June.

Mullins said he has consultants working on ferry plans, and is looking at having a third ferry available for emergency transport across the river, rather than a helicopter that bridge planners have talked about making available. Ambulances take patients across the bridge to Madison about 20 times a month, he said. With a ferry, the ambulance with the patient inside could be taken across, rather than transfer the patient from an ambulance to a helicopter.

Mullins, who said his background is in travel, said the ferries could provide a fun ride for those who use the bridge to get to and from work, and that with good marketing, ferry rides could become destinations for visitors.

The bridge will be a "touch-down to touch-down project," transportation officials said, meaning that it will be from where the bridge touches ground in Milton, Ky., to where it touches ground in Madison. If either state wants to redo its access to the bridge, it will have to pay for it, officials reiterated Monday.

Speaking in the nearly full City Council chamber, LaHood addressed the disappointment that was felt when only a fraction of the amount of money needed was provided in the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant.

"It will jump-start your opportunity," LaHood said. "You're at the starting gate. ... If you had all the money, you couldn't spend it all today."

LaHood said he will be back in a couple of years "and cut the ribbon, maybe be one of the first people to drive across it."

Also in the council chamber with LaHood were people from his department, U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., state transportation leaders from Indiana and Kentucky, elected officials from Madison, Milton, Trimble and Carroll counties in Kentucky, Jefferson County, members of the Project Advisory Group for the bridge, the bridge planners and consultants.

Later LaHood had a press conference in the chambers, moved there from the riverfront because of the weather. In between, he was driven across the bridge. A small convoy followed his car. One of the people in the convoy said that when LaHood's car reached the bridge, his driver stopped and waited for oncoming vehicles to pass before driving across.

Before coming to Madison, LaHood met with officials in Jeffersonville to talk about the two bridges to Louisville. Both visits were requested by Hill, LaHood said, and he accepted "because of my great respect for him."

"He and I served together in the House," said LaHood, who was a Republican representative from Illinois. "I have great respect for him because he is a very serious congressman. Every time I see him he has a piece of paper for a project he wants to fund."

LaHood thanked the local leaders "for getting this important project moving."

Hill said that with LaHood being a Republican and him being a Democrat, together they are "what the public wants - Republicans and Democrats working together."

Hill complimented Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong. "He's been a pain the neck," Hill said. "That's what he's supposed to be."

LaHood mentioned that Armstrong had visited his department in Washington, D.C., in a quest for bridge money.

During the past year, LaHood said, he has talked about safety in his speeches. "There is no better use for the taxpayers' money than what will go for this bridge," he said. The replacement bridge will contribute to safety as well as commerce, he said.

"The Number 1 reason that we're doing this is for the safety of the people," he said." This bridge came to my attention because of your congressman. He takes the job seriously. ...Frankly, we would not have known about this if Baron had not talked to me."

He said the $20 million will be the beginning of funding "to replace that very, very bad bridge."

During the press conference, Armstrong also praised Hill "because I believe that if it wasn't for his interest, we wouldn't be standing here today."

Armstrong said the commitments of funds and LaHood's visit were a great day for Madison, but not yet the greatest.

"Today is only the second-best day for this project," Armstrong said. "The best will be in a couple of years when we get together to cut the ribbon."