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Logistics could limit bridge options

Marking 1,000-foot lanes between Ironton and Russell, Ky.

Thursday, September 09, 1999

Marking 1,000-foot lanes between Ironton and Russell, Ky., on a map is simple compared to what must happen to replace the cities’ current bridge link, local and state planners say.

The Ohio Department of Transportation unveiled four such maps Aug. 31 for its $35 million Ironton-Russell Bridge Replacement Project.

Four "corridors" showed the general areas where a new bridge would touch down on each side of the river, and sparked loud opinions from both area residents and businesses.

Although the public comment period about a preferred route, or if the bridge needs to be replaced at all, remains ongoing, one thing is certain – building a new bridge poses tactical problems in maintaining good traffic flow, dealing with hazardous waste areas, minimizing damage to historic and residential districts and protecting business interests, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said.

"I’m sure in the place wherever it goes they’ll provide traffic plans with it," Cleary said. "But no matter where they put the bridge at, it will disrupt traffic and cause changes."

Other problems the city might face includes everything from new traffic lights, stops signs and rerouting traffic to policing speeders over the river span, he said.

"And one-way streets will probably be our biggest concern," the mayor said.

What exactly the city will need to do, though, depends on final plans, which are undecided, said Larry Hill, a planner with ODOT District 9 in Chilicothe.

"This first meeting was just to get input on the best possible route to be looking at," Hill said.

"Once either one or possibly two corridors are picked, alignments will be looked at and we will work closely with cities on what will be the best way to fit the different alignments in," he said. "That’s part of the reason a consultant was hired to take a look at this."

So, the state is mum on future details of each bridge corridor.

"We are certainly not that far along, as far as what kinds of exits there would be into traffic," Hill said. "The approach doesn’t have come off straight, just more gentle than the right-angle curve it has now, but there are lots of considerations."

Asking about the possible need to close part of Third Street because of traffic clearance, or similar questions, is getting ahead of the whole game, he said.

"All that will come into play as we go along but again you don’t go closing a main street without a lot of thought and input from the local community."

In general, the four corridors are:

– Corridor A: Connecting the area of Railroad and Fourth streets in Ironton to Ferry and Bellefonte streets in Russell.

– Corridor B: Centered on the bridge’s existing location, but likely without the 90-degree on- and off-ramps, officials said.

– Corridor C: Connecting the area of Mulberry and Fourth streets with the Bellefonte Street turn onto U.S. 23 in Kentucky.

– Corridor D: Connecting the Mastin Avenue area to the Ashland Drive and U.S. 23 intersection.

But many residents and downtown businessowners complain that none of those choices is good enough, and want to know why the old bridge has to be closed.

About 11,400 vehicles travel over the old bridge each day, and the cost difference between repairing it and building a new one is small, meaning the state favors replacement, Hill said.

Also, the low weight limit and 90-degree turns entering and exiting the bridge make its rating low when compared with state standards, ODOT spokesperson Holly Snedecor-Gray said.

"We have to consider all the options, so we’re not going to dismiss rehabilitating the old bridge," Mrs. Snedecor-Gray said.

However, the state will not likely want to maintain both an old and new bridge in the Ironton-Russell area because it would be cost prohibitive, she said.

Meanwhile, the state’s consulting firm, Baker and Associates of Columbus, wrote a report showing each route has good and bad characteristics.

Corridor A has a wide street to exit traffic onto and it supports downtown business, but it crosses above the riverfront park project and does not help Russell’s congested street system, for instance.

Corridor D, on the other hand, links Ironton directly with U.S. 23 and roads that connect to hospitals and schools, yet detours traffic from both downtown business areas, the report stated.

"It could be anywhere and serve regional traffic needs, but where will it serve the local needs?" engineer John McCandless said.

Designs and traffic models must be made, but the firm’s opinion is the landward limit of impact is Fourth Street, he said.

"We think we can get the bridge to touch down before Fourth Street, though, McCandless said.

Hill agreed that, when looked at logically, entering Ironton between Third and Fourth streets is reasonable.

ODOT also has listed "potential impacts," or what some of the obstacles are, for each project. They include:

– Hazardous waste: Four sites of low-level concern in Corridor A; 11 sites of low-level concern, two heavy industrial areas and one light industrial area in Corridor B; four report hazardous waste sites (including a Superfund cleanup site), two rail yards, four heavy industrial areas and one light industrial area in Corridor C; four sites of low-level concern, two rail yards, AK Steel materials yard, Midvalley Supply, several light industries and three reported state hazardous waste sites in Corridor D.

– Cultural: One National Resgister of Historic Places structure and eight other historic structures in Corridor A; two National Resgiter structures (the Marting and the depot), two adjacent National Register historic districts and 21 Ohio Historical Inventory structures in Corridor B; three Ohio historic inventory sructures in Corridor C; six historic inventory sructures and adjacent National Register listed Elrich House in Corridor D. (The existing bridge is also considered a historic structure impacted by each corridor plan.)

– Socio-economic: Sherman Thompson Towers, Floodwall, CSX railroad, Riverfront Park and the workforce training center in Corridor A; Ironton’s water treatment plant, two churches in Russell, Ironton Police Department, senior citizens center and the Lawrence County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Corridor B; low-income apartments, Mt. Olive Baptist Church and Ironton Lodge No. 701 in Corridor C; a nursing home and Greenup County, Ky., Environmental Commission pump house in Corridor D.

One obstacle is no harder than any other to overcome, Hill said.

"It’s just a list of possible problems that came from a cursory view," he said. "It’s hard to put a priority on them but there may be ways to remediate them once a corridor is picked."

But no one is saying all the structures listed must be torn down to make way for a bridge, he added.

Of course, the biggest impact will come from building where the existing bridge sits, which would require a two-year detour because of its closure, Hill said.

Downtown businesses favor leaving that old bridge intact and building a new one beside it, thereby protecting trade.

The Ironton Business Association wants to persuade the state to follow that idea, but the outcome is still uncertain, members said.

Public comments about the bridge project can be mailed, by Sept. 10, to Baker and Associates, P.O. Box 282011, Columbus, Ohio, 43228.

A toll-free project comments hotline also has been established at 1-877-47BRIDGE.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a weeklong series on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s plans for the Ironton-Russell Bridge. Future articles will cover businesses’ and residents’ reactions as well as the consequences of each bridge option and rumors surrounding the relocation. Have a comment on what you are reading or want to make a suggestion? Log onto our website: www.irontontribune.com.