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‘Keep the bridge where it is’

After conducting business in Ironton for 45 years, owner Tom Allyn fears closing the current bridge will severely damage his customer count.

Saturday, September 11, 1999

After conducting business in Ironton for 45 years, owner Tom Allyn fears closing the current bridge will severely damage his customer count.

"Obviously, if they move the location of the bridge, it is going to hurt me," Allyn said. "I’m right at the foot of the bridge, and a lot of our business comes from Kentucky."

There really is no need for a new bridge, Allyn said.

"I see the traffic every day," he said. "It was never designed for heavy trucks. But to serve two communities, it is adequate. I think they should just ban trucks. They should be banned. Our streets and Russell’s streets won’t handle them."

If a new bridge must come, the only feasible solution would be the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Corridor B, which is centered on the bridge’s existing location, Allyn added.

Across the expanse of the Ohio River, Russell BP manager Bill Cox agrees with Allyn’s assessment.

"I hope they keep the old bridge and then build another bridge parallel to it," Cox said. "They don’t have to close the bridge we have now. They could leave it open and maybe restrict it to light traffic."

As customers hustle into the store, paying for gas and picking up last-minute items before scattering back to their vehicles, Cox wonders about the eventual decline in business the lack of a bridge would cause.

"It would have to affect us; how much it would affect us remains to be seen," he said. "But a bridge located away from Russell and away from downtown Ironton would absolutely have a negative effect on both sides of the river. It would have to."

But, building a new bridge in the same location will still hurt downtown Ironton businesses. ODOT officials say the bridge will not be able to end close to Second and Third streets, where most of Ironton’s businesses are located, Allyn continued.

Instead, the bridge will come down near Fourth Street.

"There are so many businesses that built something here because the bridge was there – Pizza Forum, CVS ," Allyn said. "It’ll wipe them out if they move the bridge away from them."

At Corbie’s gift shop in downtown Russell, Celeste McClanahan is not ready to see the building she works in torn down to make way for a new bridge.

She’s also not ready to lose her home on Bellefonte Street, just two blocks from the store.

"I would choose either Corridor C or Corridor D," Ms. McClanahan said. "I’m concerned with the heavy traffic, particularly trucks and the destruction of friend’s homes along Riverside Drive."

Corridors A and B would either take her home, a friend’s home, or the business where she works, she said.

And, with C or D corridors, she believes lighter traffic would actually help the businesses, leaving Russell shoppers more parking and a cleaner atmosphere.

"I believe with it just being at the end of the viaduct that people will come back into Russell to buy their gas and cigarettes and to patronize the other businesses," she said. "To me, that would be less congested and make it easier to park."

Other Ironton business owners, such as Joe Unger of Unger’s Shoe Store, see a need for a new bridge, but don’t see why they have to lose the current one.

"Everybody would be happy then," Unger said. "All this controversy would vanish in a heartbeat. For one thing, the Ironton-Russell Bridge should be listed on the national register. It’s a landmark and too many of the old bridges are disappearing. Secondly, the bridge is in great shape and it is a perfect corridor linking the two downtowns."

If he would have to choose, however, Unger sees Corridor B, the option that would allow the bridge to stay near the old location, as the only solution.

"The Kemp Avenue location would be going through a residential section and it also seems mighty close to the two Ashland bridges," Unger said. "The Railroad Street one is bad because I wouldn’t want to see us lose our riverfront park. That area has the chance to really grow and develop. If they choose one of the proposed corridors, I would vote for Corridor B. I would support the Ironton Business Association and Ironton City Council."

Even at the risk of losing one of two business properties she owns, Antique Junction owner/operator Sharon Henry still wants ODOT to decide to keep the bridge as close as possible to its current location.

"I have two buildings located in Corridor B, so if they choose that one, I’m very likely to lose at least one building because I have one on each side," Mrs. Henry said. "But, if the new bridge were to take my building, then that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to keep downtown Ironton and Russell from drying up, which is exactly what will happen if they don’t have a bridge between them."

Without a bridge between Ironton and Russell, the two cities will lose more businesses and more jobs –  consequences neither can afford to face.

But the bigger problem, it seems, is getting both sides, as well as all the residents and business owners, united behind a singular cause, she said. No matter what happens, residents and officials on both sides of the river should do their best to keep the bridge located as close as possible to where it is now.

"Ironton and Russell must have a connection between the two of them, and I agree with Ironton City Council’s decision," Mrs. Henry said. "If the old bridge has to be torn down, then we must build the new one in the same location."

To do away with a bridge that connects Ironton and Russell would be like cutting a lifeline that stretches across the Ohio River, said Deborah Willis, a floral designer with A Touch of Grace.

"The bridge brings support to the City of Ironton and the City of Russell," Ms. Willis said. "You need to keep one open that comes into the downtown areas of both cities. We have an older society, and the downtown areas give them something to do, something different that’s not a far distance to go. There are so many people who come over here or go over there just to walk around and see what catches their eyes."