To the point week of 8/16/07

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THE RECENT TRAGEDY in Minnesota where the highway bridge collapsed during rush hour has led many communities to evaluate the condition of their bridges – and also consider measures to better control the traffic crossing those bridges.

Whether or not the Minnesota disaster could have been avoided may never be known; but community officials need to be sure that any actions that they take are sound decisions, and not simply knee-jerk reactions after what happened in Minnesota.

A case in point came last week, when Madison mayor Al Huntington wrote a letter to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary that asked the state to impose a weight limit on the Madison-Milton bridge, and also to ban “18 wheelers” all together.

The current Madison-Milton bridge was built in 1929, according to the letter that Mayor Huntington sent to Kentucky officials. The state of Kentucky plans on replacing the bridge in 2012, but that could be delayed.

The mayor’s letter talks about how important the bridge is to the economies of not only Madison, but to the entire region: “…The economic viability of this region is dependent on the Milton-Madison Bridge…,” he wrote.

He then wrote that the bridge has its share of problems:

“The bridge, which was designed for cars and trucks of its era, is structurally deficient, with a functionally obsolete design of the approach on the Kentucky side. Lane widths are so narrow that large tractor trailer trucks often scrape each other when meeting on the bridge….”

As the mayor of Madison, I can understand Al Huntington’s concern about traffic crossing the bridge.

As a resident of Switzerland County, I have concerns about what will happen here should the State of Kentucky agree with him and ban semi trucks.

With very few other options, semis are going to cross the Ohio River at Markland, which would bring all of that commercial traffic through the heart of Switzerland County – either coming through Vevay on their way to Madison; up the new State Road 129 in an attempt to get to State Road 421 at Versailles; up a renovated Markland Pike trying to get to U.S. 50; or through Patriot and the eastern portion of the county trying to get to I-275 around Cincinnati.

If semis can’t cross at Madison, the only choices would be the Markland Dam or the bridge at Louisville at Interstate 65 – and that’s so far out of the equation that trucks won’t consider it.

As a community, Switzerland Countians need to stay aware of efforts being made to limit traffic in other areas, because it will in turn place a heavier burden on the Markland Dam bridge; will bring more commercial and heavy vehicle traffic through this community; and that will put more residents and visitors in harm’s way.

We’ve all seen the accidents that have resulted here over the years when a roll of steel has come free from a tractor trailer while being transported. We’ve also seen trucks overturned because they couldn’t make a corner or curve in the roadway with the weight that the truck was carrying.

We’ve all seen more deadly accidents on River Road than any of us care to recall; and we’ve all lived through near misses of our own as we travel back and forth.

Add to all of this the increased traffic from visitors trying to find their way to Belterra Casino Resort and Spa; residents trying to cross the river to get to work with Markland Pike closed for repairs; school buses and student drivers going back and forth now that school has reopened – and we could very easily have a recipe for disaster on our hands.

Certainly there is a need to be prudent with traffic crossing the Madison-Milton, and I completely understand that Mayor Huntington’s first obligation is to the people of Madison and their safety; but it also points to our community leaders also being proactive in light of his letter; making sure that the State of Kentucky understands the ramifications here should such a policy be adopted in Madison.

Madison’s request also isn’t unique, as an article in The Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this week saw Covington, Kentucky’s mayor ask that semi trucks be kept off of the Brent Spence Bridge leading into Cincinnati except when those trucks had specific business in downtown Cincinnati.

That article stated that road studies show that there are 17,000 large trucks crossing that bridge everyday – about 10-percent of all of the bridge’s traffic. The State of Kentucky estimated that if the Covington mayor’s request was put in place, it would reduce large truck traffic on that bridge by 50-percent.

With all of the bridges in and around Cincinnati that cross the Ohio River, a ban there probably would have little impact here, but it is a situation that still needs to be monitored.

Safety has to be at the forefront of all discussions; along with the burden that bans in other places might place on residents here.

A big increase in semi traffic would mean greater strain on the roadways here. Will roads have to be repaved more often? If so, who will pay for that?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

It will also place a greater stress on our law enforcement community. More trucks specifically and more traffic in general will also mean – statistically - more speeders, more violations, and more accidents. Are we ready for that?

Above all, the increased semi traffic that would result from a truck ban on the Madison-Milton Bridge will significantly harm our own sense of “community” that we all have here. Residents here are accustomed to a certain pace of life, and streams of semis would undoubtedly change that dramatically.

Can you imagine a line of semis backed up behind the buggies and bicycles of our Amish community?

No one knows if the Madison request will be considered, much less acted on; but the leaders of the Switzerland County community need to make sure that our voice is also heard by Kentucky officials.

If the Madison bridge is a danger, then close it to all traffic and replace it. If it requires weight limits, then impose them and enforce them.

Don’t simply ban all semi traffic because of one incident – as tragic as it was – without looking at all of the ramifications of those actions.

Our lives may depend on it.