Bridge project pushed to summer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2008

Staff Report

Chillicothe — After consulting closely with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the city of Ironton, the Ohio Department of Transportation will start a planned $1.2 million preservation project on the Ironton-Russell Bridge this summer, avoiding the nesting season of the city’s resident peregrine falcons.

Meanwhile, plans to build a new bridge connecting southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky are on schedule, aided by the approval of the U.S. Coast Guard on design plans which allow the state to build a more efficient and cost-effective structure.

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“Moving our preservation project to the summer will not jeopardize the safety of motorists using the bridge,” said District 9 Deputy Director James Brushart. “ODOT is committed to environmental stewardship. Our citizens demand a high-quality transportation system, put in place with sensitivity to the environment.”

Officials from both ODOT and the Department of Natural Resources raised concerns about the effect of a planned preservation project on the habitat of resident peregrine falcons during their nesting season from mid-March to early June. The falcons are a protected species in Ohio.

ODOT also considered the safety of its workers. If threatened, the falcons can become aggressive toward anyone working or walking on or near the bridge.

The latest information about the preservation project and plans for a new Ironton-Russell Bridge were shared during a recent meeting at the Statehouse with Gov. Ted Strickland, ODOT Director James Beasley and Ironton Mayor Richard Blankenship.

Director Beasley reiterated the department’s commitment to maintaining the bridge’s safety and making the scheduled repairs, as well as its commitment to replacing the existing structure.

ODOT will soon be meeting with representatives of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the Ohio Highway Patrol, and local Ironton officials to discuss renewed efforts to limit the amount of heavier truck traffic that continues to use the existing bridge.

In designing the new bridge, ODOT recently received approval from the U.S. Coast Guard for the placement of a second tower in the Ohio River, allowing it to be built further into the navigational channel and producing a more economical and symmetrical design. The original bridge design called for a single, much taller tower - a factor that inflated the cost of the original design significantly. However, the redesign calls for the bridge to be constructed with two smaller towers to fit within the project scope.

“With a commitment from Governor Strickland and Director Beasley to advance the project as much as possible, we are making significant strides to do so, and we appreciate the support of both the Ironton and Russell communities while we undertake both the preservation and replacement projects,” said District 9 Deputy Director Brushart.

Currently, the department anticipates selling the rehabilitation project in April, with a targeted completion date of October 31, 2008, and the department’s goal is to have the final design plans for the replacement project completed by late summer of 2009.