VIEW FROM KENTUCKY: This is an engineer’s rendering of what the proposed Madison-Milton bridge would look like if a new superstructure was placed on top of existing piers that would be widened. The view is from Milton, Ky.
VIEW FROM KENTUCKY: This is an engineer’s rendering of what the proposed Madison-Milton bridge would look like if a new superstructure was placed on top of existing piers that would be widened. The view is from Milton, Ky.
Nearly 200 residents packed the Milton Elementary School gymnasium Thursday night, looking for answers to their questions about the proposed superstructure replacement of the Madison-Milton bridge.

Project officials presented a slide show detailing the project from its start a year ago to where it is today with the application for a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant, or TIGER.

If the $95 million grant is received, plans call for a new superstructure to be built on top of existing piers that would be widened. Kentucky and Indiana would assume the cost for the remainder of the project - about $36 million.

If the grant is denied, planners will resume their study of alternatives to the existing bridge. A decision is expected to be made by January.

Many of the residents who spoke during the public meeting voiced concerns about getting across the river while the bridge is closed. They also are worried about the economic impact of the bridge being closed for up to 12 months.

Milton businessman Kline Barnes said he would lose $700 to $800 a week if the bridge is closed. He said his family lost one of its businesses in downtown Milton during the 1997 refurbishing of the bridge.

Former Madison mayor Markt Lytle and Corey Murphy, executive-director of the Economic Development Partners in Madison, agreed that the local economy and businesses would need a financial stimulus during the time the bridge was closed.

Lytle said he understands the power the bridge holds for the two communities.

"(The economic impact) would be a lot greater if they close down the bridge," Lytle said. "We've been kind of treated as a step child to the Louisville bridges. The TIGER grant makes sense."

Murphy said while closing the bridge would be painful, the benefit of a new bridge has to be the focus.

"Business assistance funds need to be made available," Murphy said. "We want a bailout too."

Murphy said the Madison-Milton bridge is one of 27 river crossings Kentucky is obligated to maintain. The state does not have the funding to make sure all the projects are funded.

"We better take the money and run," Murphy said.

Kentucky state representative Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said Kentucky does not have the money to complete the project.

"We have worked on this for a very long time," Rand said. "We just are not bringing in any money. Our revenues are in the tank."

Rand said the federal funding option is the way to go to build a replacement bridge in a timely manner.

"I have worked with four governors and many transportation secretaries in my time," Rand said. "It's very difficult to predict what happens in future years. We don't know what the future holds for the old bridge."

John Carr, vice president of Wilbur Smith Associates in Lexington, Ky., said if the replacement superstructure is not built, it could be years before a new bridge would be built, and a rehabilitation of the existing bridge would be likely.

A rehabilitation would take 18 to 24 months to complete, and the bridge would be shut down during that time, he said.

Milton resident Nancy Gaines said she was worried about the financial hardship on people with fixed incomes and those retirement age or older. She said they would have to find more costly alternate routes for employment, food and health care needs.

"I haven't heard anything about retirees who can't make ends meet," Gaines said. "It's not feasible to get to work on time with the ferries. But, it's not really our choice. It's the way the states want to go."

Deputy project manager Tim Sorenson said details about the ferries which would shuttle traffic across the river during construction have not been sorted out yet. A ferry expert is working with project consultants to advise them on possible landing routes. The ferry would be free and would probably operate 24-7, Carr said.

Ripley County resident Hermon Stromf said the project does not just impact the local communities - it's a regional project.

"The bridge is going to be closed. At least we can plan for it now," Stromf said.

Local truck driver Gill Barany said the project could use a floating temporary bridge that uses a hydraulic system to open and close the drawbridge for barge traffic instead of ferries to get people across the river. This type of bridge was used during World War II by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Carr said the consultants were given this idea by someone online recently, but the option would not be any faster than using the ferries because the amount of barge traffic on the Ohio River. He said the Ohio River is one of the busiest waterways next to the Mississippi River for barges.

"Barges can't just stop on a dime," Carr said. "You would have to wait at least 15 minutes as one crossed and you would have to keep the bridge open longer as the next barge behind it passed through."

Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong said the project is important on both sides of the river and should not become a political issue.

"People in our combined community have a choice to demonstrate their support and opinions which will ultimately be judged by the Federal Highway Administration, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation," Armstrong said. "... Please join me to show that we can join together for a greater cause, overcome misinformation and demonstrate to the governmental agencies is that the image of our combined community project is one that respects the federal process that we are going through and most importantly, the decision-makers."

A live interactive online forum will be offered from noon to 2 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 17 on to provide the public with another opportunity for feedback on the proposed project. Project and state officials will answer questions from the Web site.

"This project continues to evolve," Sorenson said. "There's a lot of work to do."