Fayette County

Jefferson Street bridge near Rupp Arena closing this month. Now what?

The Jefferson Street bridge, that connects High and Main streets, is expected to come down soon to make room for the proposed Lexington Convention Center expansion and a proposed Town Branch Park.
The Jefferson Street bridge, that connects High and Main streets, is expected to come down soon to make room for the proposed Lexington Convention Center expansion and a proposed Town Branch Park. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The Jefferson Street bridge near Rupp Arena could come down by the end of the month.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council gave final approval Thursday night to demolish the bridge to make room for a proposed Lexington Convention Center expansion.

City officials have said signs will be placed on the bridge and on Main and High Streets soon warning drivers the bridge will be torn down. The bridge will be closed to traffic within the next two weeks.

Traffic will be diverted to the nearby Oliver Lewis Way bridge, which has more than enough capacity to handle the Jefferson Street bridge traffic, city officials said.

Council members Peggy Henson and Richard Moloney were the only two council members who voted against tearing the bridge down -- which was first discussed in September 2017. The city got control of the Jefferson Street bridge through a road swap with the state that involved several other streets.

Moloney has previously said he’s concerned that tearing down the bridge will cause traffic headaches on the city’s west side.

Henson said during Thursday night’s meeting that many people from her district — which includes the Versailles Road corridor — use the Jefferson Street bridge to get to and from downtown.

“Once it’s gone there is nothing you can do,” Henson said. “We have a lot of issues and traffic is one of them.”

Several people told the council during the meeting they opposed tearing down the bridge.

Carolyn Colliver said it can take her more than 40 minutes to get from her home in the Stonewall subdivision to downtown. Tearing down the bridge doesn’t make sense, she said.

“Traffic has become pure gridlock,” Colliver said.

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Ike Lawrence said the city has never said how much it will cost to take the bridge down. That money should instead be used to redesign the expansion of the Lexington Convention Center and a 10-acre Town Branch Park that has been proposed for the area where the bridge sits, he said.

“I think I speak for a silent majority of people,” Lawrence said.

The bridge must be demolished because of a proposed $241 million expansion of the Lexington Convention Center, said Brandi Peacher, a project manager for the city. The exterior wall of that expansion will abut where the bridge stands. Utilities that are being re-routed will go through where the bridge stands.

The demolition is included in the project’s $241 million price tag, Peacher said.

Paul Price of Main Street Baptist Church, which has buildings on each side of the Jefferson Street bridge along Main Street, said the church is not opposed to the city tearing down the bridge.

Main Street Baptist and the city are still in talks to determine who will control the roughly half acre of land on the Main Street side once the bridge is demolished and before the Town Branch Park is built — which likely won’t begin construction for three years. To date, about $8 million of the $30 million in donations needed to build the park have been raised.

That half acre of land on Main Street is the only proposed entrance to the park and the city wants to maintain control of it. Main Street Baptist has wanted to use that land for church parking.

“We are in dialogue about it,” Price told the council.

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