Closing of Kennedy Mill Bridge adding minutes and miles to driving times at Herrington Lake

The Kennedy Mill Bridge that spans Herrington Lake between Mercer and Garrard counties has been closed to traffic since Sept. 3. The state plans to repair the 91-year-old bridge.
The Kennedy Mill Bridge that spans Herrington Lake between Mercer and Garrard counties has been closed to traffic since Sept. 3. The state plans to repair the 91-year-old bridge. Lexington Herald-Leader

HERRINGTON LAKE — Three weeks ago, Megan Shearer had only to drive five minutes from her home on the Mercer County side of this Central Kentucky lake to the Kamp Kennedy Marina she owns on the Garrard County side.

But that became a 30-minute commute when the state Transportation Cabinet closed the Kennedy Mill Bridge across Herrington Lake on Sept. 3, the Thursday before Labor Day weekend.

"It is an inconvenience, but you live with that," Shearer said.

What miffs Shearer is that the state has known about the bridge's deteriorating condition for a long time, "and now it's come down to where everybody is inconvenienced."

In late August, state inspectors discovered significant deterioration at multiple points of the steel truss that supports the deck of the 91-year-old bridge.

"It was the opinion of our inspectors and engineers that, for the sake of public safety, the Kennedy Mill Bridge had to be closed as soon as possible," said Kelly Baker, chief district engineer for the Department of Highways' District 7 office in Lexington.

Stantec Inc., a consulting firm under contract to the Transportation Cabinet, is coming up with a plan for repairs that would allow the bridge to be reopened to traffic. But those repairs could take three to four months.

"It very well could be the first of the year" before the bridge reopens, said Matt Simpson, branch manager for project delivery and preservation at the District 7 office.

The state's six-year road plan includes money to build a bridge just north of the old span. Construction is scheduled to start next year and continue into 2018. Once the new bridge is built, the old bridge will be demolished.

Some parts of the Kennedy Mill truss were repaired in 2010, but the inspection in August revealed that others require attention now, Simpson said.

"We're trying to be serious with taxpayers' money," he said. "We want to address all the concerns. At the same time, we don't want to throw money into items that will be ultimately, in a couple of years, be demolished."

Mercer County resident Beth Stanton said the state didn't have any choice but to close the bridge.

"I would hold my breath driving across that bridge, because we all know it's not in the best shape," Stanton said. "If you go underneath it by boat, you'll see a lot of rust. If they hadn't done it, and something horrible happened, what then?"

Stanton formerly drove Ky. 152 across the bridge to U.S. 27 in Garrard County, then headed north to work in Nicholasville. Now she drives through Burgin to U.S. 68 into Jessamine County and Nicholasville.

"It can take five, 10, 15 minutes longer than going up 27, but it's a beautiful drive, and I just decided to enjoy the drive," Stanton said.

But marina owners like Shearer, took a hit in revenue when the bridge was closed just before Labor Day.

Shearer started an impromptu shuttle service, taking people by boat to the four marinas near the bridge to make life a little easier for those inconvenienced by the closure.

"And I did not charge anything," Shearer said. "You had to do something because it was hurting a lot of people."

One marina, Sunset, which normally would stay open into the fall, closed Sept. 10. On its Facebook page, Sunset cited the bridge as the reason for ending its season early.

In the meantime, the state awaits final recommendations on specific repairs to the bridge, Simpson said.

"It's our goal to reopen this bridge so it will be operational during construction of the new bridge," he said.

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