Aging Weisenberger bridge, which links Woodford and Scott, to be replaced

ngray@herald-leader.comJune 3, 2014 

Mac Weisenberger says the scenery around his mill is the same in 2014 as it was in 1973, when he first started working at his family business.

Weisenberger, the fifth-generation owner and operator of the 149-year-old Weisenberger Mill, is used to the same landscape outside his office window — a dam on South Elkhorn Creek, which flows beneath a one-lane bridge of rusted steel and stone. But that scene is about to change.

The Weisenberger Mill Road bridge has been a link between Woodford and Scott counties since it was built in 1930. But a recent inspection by state officials determined that the aging bridge needs to be replaced.

Ananias Calvin, the state transportation cabinet project manager, said the state will tear down the current deteriorating bridge and will build a new two-lane bridge in the same area by the end of 2015.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved a six-year highway plan in 2012 that identified bridges and roadways that needed repairs or possible renovation. Because of its age and its 34.6 bridge sufficiency rating (100 is perfect), the state said the bridge is functionally obsolete, meaning it does not meet current design standards. Vehicles can safely travel on the bridge, Calvin said, but any bridge with a rating under 50 is eligible for reconstruction.

Despite its condition, Weisenberger had wanted to see the bridge renovated rather than completely replaced. Calvin and his team held a public meeting at Midway College in January 2013 and heard local residents say the same. So Kentucky Transportation Cabinet inspectors examined the bridge, looking for what parts needed to be renovated and what could still stand.

"We examined the bridge (after the meeting)," Calvin said. "We tried to see what we could save from the structure, and we did not find anything to save."

Calvin said the one-lane bridge has cracking and section loss in its superstructure, which directly supports the bridge's surface. There is erosion to the bridge's stone abutments, which support the bridge at each end, he said. Also, the Federal Highway Administration stated in a 2006 evaluation that the bridge railings do not meet national standards.

Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth said he will try to find a way to represent the "historical landmark" once it is torn down.

"As you can see with the reaction in the last meeting, people do care about it," Bozarth said. "It's been there for such a long time, and the mill is linked to it."

But it's not just about history. Fishermen set up near the bridge every day, Bozarth said, and photographers often use the bridge to take photos of local high school seniors.

"People stop and get out there all the time," Bozarth said. "It's a recreational area as much as anything. You don't see a mill, a dam and a mill all together in that way every day. It's a picturesque setting."

Weisenberger has other concerns about the 84-year-old bridge, which will be closed once Calvin and his team are ready to construct the new bridge. Though vendors usually do not use the bridge to load and unload products, many local residents and customers use the bridge to get to the mill to buy products, Weisenberger said. The mill attracts more than 90 customers per week, he said.

Also, Weisenberger Mill Road turns sharply just past the bridge as it enters Woodford County. A one-lane bridge required motorists to slow down as they approached the bridge to peer across for oncoming traffic before crossing.

"Every day, I see cars almost wreck here," Weisenberger said. "You put cars going 50 miles per hour on it and I'm afraid that something is going to happen."

Work cannot be done on the curve in this project because there is no money available in the $500,000 budget, Calvin said. The budget is made up completely of state bonds.

"(The state) will not improve the tight curve because the additional property to be purchased and the additional pavement and earthwork on the Woodford County side will significantly impact the project's budget."

He agreed with Weisenberger about the dangers of going too fast through the curve when the new two-lane bridge is built and warned drivers to use caution when approaching the curve, no matter if the bridge is one lane or two.

"With current speed limits, there is a concern with the curve," Calvin said. "There needs to be a separate speed limit specifically for that curve."

Calvin will hold another public meeting, this time to inform the public about the initial design of the new bridge and hear thoughts on the progress. The meeting was scheduled to take place sometime in June, but the lengthy design process will likely push that back to July, Calvin said.

Weisenberger attended the meeting last January and pushed for the bridge to be refurbished. Now that it is clear it will be replaced, Weisenberger said he will wait until plans are released before he "gets all worked up about it."

"I've got to put my trust in what their expertise is in, just like I can make a bag of flour or a bag of cornmeal and I can be confident that it's the best," he said.

Still, Weisenberger said that it will be bittersweet to see the eventual demolition of a structure that has stood since he began working at the mill 40 years ago.

"Probably anything they do, I won't be happy with," he said. "But I'll have to live with it. People get attached to stuff for no reason, and I guess I'm no different than anyone else."

Nick Gray: (859) 231-1330. Twitter: @ngray_63

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