Idea of saving Ironton-Russell Bridge not drawing much city support

Published 9:38 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Ironton resident’s desire to save the 93-year-old Ironton-Russell Bridge may have drawn petition supporters, but most city officials see the idea as one they cannot afford.

“We’ve discussed this with (Ohio Department of Transportation) several years ago and it’s financially not feasible to them,” Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship said. “The state would still have to maintain it and inspect it, which is very costly.”

Less than a month ago, Elle Dew started a drive to save the structure as a pedestrian bridge, stating that it is the only one of its kind left in the country. When it was built in 1922, the bridge was the only one crossing the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Parkersburg, West Virginia at that time.

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The Ironton-Russell Bridge Co. owned the bridge until 1963 when the State Bridge Commission purchased it for $1.3 million. In 1982, ODOT acquired the bridge when the State Bridge Commission was disbanded.

“I think it’s a good idea, but it’s not financially feasible,” Blankenship said, talking about the possibility of the city of Ironton taking over the bridge. “I know we’re not in a financial situation to do that and we don’t have the funds to do that. Would it be nice? Yes, but the city can’t take it on.”

ODOT District 9 public information officer Kathleen Fuller said the process of ODOT passing the bridge on to another owner or governmental entity would be difficult and that ODOT’s plans are to continue with the contract in place for building the new bridge, which includes tearing down the old one.

“Tearing down the old bridge is part of the contract we have with building the new bridge,” Fuller said. “We do transfers to other government entities if they want to take it on, but there is a lot of details and paperwork. To sell the bridge, we’d have to go through an auction process and get it appraised from an outside company before it would go to auction.”

Fuller said ODOT is not going to do that because it does not consider the bridge excess property that it can sell.

“The city didn’t want to maintain the bridge,” Fuller said. “There are safety and liability concerns and it would still have to undergo inspections because of the structure.”

Inspections on the bridge also would involve underwater inspections on the piers.

Ironton City Council member Dave Frazer doesn’t believe the bridge can be saved.

“I don’t think it can be saved if it’s going to be too much,” Frazer said. “I’m against it. The city can’t afford it.”

Ironton City Council, Philip Heald said he is in favor of saving the bridge, although he is not going to be involved in promoting making it happen.

“I would like to save it for historical purposes. I wasn’t planning on taking an active part in saving it, but I’ve liked the idea ever since it was going to be torn down,” Heald said. “From the standpoint of being on city council, taking on a huge expense for the city wouldn’t be practical because there’s too much to it, but from an emotional standpoint, keeping the bridge is something I think is appealing.”

Craig Harvey is in favor of keeping the bridge, but only if the financial situation makes sense to do so.

“I go to Cincinnati a lot and it’s a neat novelty having a pedestrian bridge there,” Harvey said. “I don’t think the Ironton-Russell Bridge would be as heavily trafficked, but I think it would be neat. I’m all for it if there was a way to make it work, but if it really impacts the budget, I don’t think it will be saved.”

However Bob Cleary said he thinks all options need to be laid out in order to come to a final conclusion about saving the bridge.

“I think making an effort to save it is worthwhile. Taking on a project that big, it’s easy to say no, we can’t do it. But unless we try, we’ll never know,” Cleary said. “I think until we actually sit down with them and they lay it all out, that’s when we’ll make a final decision.”

Council members Aaron Bollinger, Kevin Waldo and Beth Rist were unavailable for comment.

Dew has a goal of 20,000 signatures on her petition, which currently has just below 1,000. She said when she feels she has enough signatures and support, she plans on going to the main ODOT office in Columbus before the new bridge is complete.

The new bridge, which does not include a sidewalk for pedestrians, is set to be complete late next year or early 2017.