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New bridge proposal sparks concern

What’s effectively a third alternative for replacing the Ironton-Russell Bridge has prompted concern from downtown businesspeople.

Friday, February 02, 2001

What’s effectively a third alternative for replacing the Ironton-Russell Bridge has prompted concern from downtown businesspeople.

Mike Haas, chair of the Ironton Business Association’s bridge committee, called the news surprising.

"Personally, I was under the impression it was reduced to two proposals and the next step would be a more detailed study," Haas said. "Now, it’s not only modified, but it’s quite different."

Ohio Department of Transportation leaders called a Tuesday meeting with IBA members to explain why a modification of proposed route B/C-1 is necessary – it does not affect four homes that are potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The B/C-1 bridge touches down just south of Adams Street on Second, while the second touches down just north of Adams Street.

The third, labeled B/C-1a, would place the touchdown just before the block between Monroe and Madison, affecting J&M Maynard Enterprises, properties associated with Bob Clyse Motors and the BC Tool Rental property, which is owned by Mayor Bob Cleary.

ODOT is bound by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 to find "feasible or prudent" alternatives because of the historic homes, District 9 deputy director John Hagen wrote in a letter to government stakeholders dated Jan. 26.

During a more detailed study of the two alternatives, state consultants Baker and Associates discovered the historic home problem, ODOT spokesperson Kathleen Fuller said.

Haas said he understands ODOT’s reasoning but is still surprised.

"They have been aware of the historical sites," he said. "I thought all this would have been in place when they narrowed it to two."

Dave Milem of the Lawrence County Historical Society said the group has always taken the stance that the bridge was more important to downtown businesses.

The society did not initiate the historic issue, and has not been contacted by ODOT about the new alternative, Milem said.

"We agreed that the historical society wasn’t going to get involved," he said, adding that either way the historic homes will be impacted.

If the state took the homes for a bridge touchdown, the society would be compensated and put the money to use for historical purposes elsewhere, while if it was a block either way a bridge touchdown would still affect the property, Milem said.

Despite the historical society’s opinion, ODOT still must investigate because of law, Mrs. Fuller said.

It’s part of the refinement process, she said.

"Yes, we knew the structures were there, but the fact the were eligible for historic listing and what that meant came about after further study."

ODOT sought the IBA’s opinion at the Tuesday meeting but the group is waiting, Haas said.

The IBA membership will be polled, or will meet, to form an opinion, he said.

Mrs. Fuller said ODOT will probably have some type of meeting about all three proposals but nothing has been scheduled.

And, there could be more refinement of plans, she said.

ODOT hopes to pick a bridge route by this summer.

Some businesspeople question whether Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary, who owns the BC Tool Rental property, was involved in ODOT’s decision to investigate the new alternative bridge route.

Ralph Whitman, manager of S&S Carryout, said he thought the two proposed routes were the only ones left.

And, many people were told it was impossible to move the bridge back one block but now it’s been moved two, Whitman said.

"I think they bent that thing to accommodate the mayor," he said.

Cleary said he was not involved in the third alternative.

"From the first, when ODOT started looking, I stayed neutral on everything because I knew one of the corridors could possibly affect property that I own," he said.

The mayor said he had given no formal opinion from his office and was shocked to see ODOT had come up with another location that affects BC Tool Rental.

"I thought the two they had come up with were the final ones," he said, adding that a previous corridor affecting his property had already been ruled out.

ODOT spokesperson Kathleen Fuller said the BC Tool property would be affected, but ODOT doesn’t know to what degree.

There is more refinement to be done, whichever one is chosen, she said.

Of the three, B2 is cheapest at $66 million. B/C-1 will cost $74 million. And B/C-1a, the newest, will cost $71 million.

The decision is still in the study and investigation stage, Mrs. Fuller said.

The idea of the new alternate route is questionable for other reasons, Whitman said.

Business owners didn’t want their property affected but were supportive if the bridge stayed downtown to protect retail trade coming from Kentucky, he said.

"As much as they’ve bent this bridge, they can bend it more and touch down at Second and Jefferson, where there’s only one house and a car lot," Whitman said.

Moving it would avoid a high revenue producer – Bob Clyse Motors, he added.

Bob Clyse said the new alternate splits his two car lots from the dealership’s main office, directly affecting customer service.

"If that’s the best for all the people, that’s one thing," he said. "But they must realize the financial impact and explain why it’s the best alternative based on what will happen."

The dealership brings consumers downtown and is responsible for more than $15,000 in city income tax revenue, Clyse said.

Also, the business has grown from $12 million in sales to $18 million since 1996, representing one of the largest retailers downtown, he said.

If the car lots are separated from the main office by a bridge ramp, then it’s highly probable the business would have to relocate outside of Ironton because of the lack of available building site in the city and General Motors would recommend a highway location, Clyse said.

From the beginning, Clyse has supported a new bridge if it was advantageous to the majority, he said.

But for ODOT to move from four new bridge corridors to six, then to two and now back to three is perplexing, Clyse said.