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Bridge closure causes problems for Milltown

Commissioners shut down 'curve bridge' west of town following inspection

March 12, 2008
In a move that caught many in the Milltown area by surprise, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners voted to close County Bridge No. 129, on North Milltown Road just outside Milltown, last Wednesday after an annual inspection revealed problems with one section of the structure.

Deterioration on the north side of the bridge gave inspectors cause for concern. The Crawford County Commissioners hope to have the bridge repaired within four to six weeks. (Photo by Chris Adams)
The old one-lane bridge, which crosses the Blue River in downtown Milltown, has long been the focus of attention by residents and elected officials, but just up the road, Bridge No. 129, also known as the "curve bridge," was developing problems of its own.

"The annual inspection was done on the bridge last week," said Crawford County Commissioner Larry Bye, whose district includes the bridge. "Then, last Friday, we received a letter that recommended immediate closure of the bridge."

The commissioners then contacted an engineering firm from Jeffersonville to get a second opinion, and it was confirmed that there was a problem with a section of the bridge that was pulling away from one of the piers. The engineers also recommended closing the bridge. At 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, Bye called a special commissioners' meeting, and the board voted unanimously to immediately close the bridge.

According to the report Bye gave at the meeting, water had leaked through the deck of the bridge causing a pier to erode on one side, which allowed the deck to drop about three inches.

The bridge, built in 1937, is thought to be the first curved bridge built in the state. It was built to allow traffic to cross over the railroad tracks.

"It may be a historic bridge," Bye said. "We're going to try to do temporary repairs to it and continue to use the bridge for a few years until we can find funding to either rebuild or replace it. We're going to have steel brackets designed to reattach the deck to the pier and hope we can begin repairs in two to three weeks. Our plan is to reopen the bridge in four to six weeks if all goes well.

"We really hate to inconvenience people, but safety is a priority. We can't take chances with school buses and trucks crossing it until it's repaired."

The closing of the bridge does create problems for the community due to the tonnage restrictions on the one-lane bridge downtown. Perhaps the best option for heavy vehicles, including school buses, to get in or out of town is to use Speed Road, a narrow blacktop road that connects with S.R. 66 south of Marengo.

"The commissioners called us about 1 p.m. on Wednesday and told us they were closing the bridge," Mike Key, transportation director for the Crawford County School Corp., said last week. "They informed us that we couldn't cross the bridge — period.

"I had to immediately reroute all six of the buses that have routes in that area. I have three regular routes that use the bridge. One bus goes toward Hardinsburg. We have two special ed bus routes and one pre-school bus that runs in the Milltown area," Key continued. "We can't use the one-lane bridge in town, so Milltown is like an island if you have a heavy vehicle. It looks like we'll have to reroute our buses through Marengo on S.R. 66 to Speed Road, then to Milltown.

"We haven't had time to do a lot of planning yet, but we may have to drop off the older kids at the high school first in the morning, then go down Speed Road with the Milltown Elementary kids. Hopefully, we'll be able to get them there before the first period begins."

Key also voiced concerns that the bridge may not be approved for bus traffic, even after repairs are made, and Bye added he too is concerned.

"It's our hope that once it's open, trucks and buses will be able to use the bridge," Bye said. "We're just not sure yet. There's a chance we may have to reduce tonnage on it, just like the one-lane bridge. It's just too early to tell."

Key is also concerned that the additional mileage the buses will be traveling will cost the school corporation funds that are already stretched thin.

"It's fortunate that three of the buses on those routes are corporation-owned," he said. "Still, we'll be footing the bill for the additional expenses, and our pockets are not as deep as they used to be. I may be able to reduce the three routes down to two, but we just haven't had enough time to plan this out yet and see how it's going to work."

The Milltown Volunteer Fire Department will also be affected by the bridge closure, but Scott Dubois, assistant fire chief, said their trucks should be able to respond to most emergencies with few changes.

"Of course, we'll utilize surrounding fire departments if we need them," Dubois said, "but our trucks will use the old one-lane bridge in an emergency. There's no choice. Our equipment is under the weight limit on the bridge anyway. And we have a policy to use the bridge if we need to. We'll be fine, even though it may be a bit of an inconvenience for us."

Milltown Town Council President Curt Hudson said the closing of the bridge created a lot of confusion, especially during the first couple of days.

"It's affecting all of us, at least some," Hudson said. "People who are not from the immediate area are really confused. Most of us know how to use Speed Road, but some, like trucks coming into town, may not.

"The old one-lane bridge has a 16-ton limit, and I really don't trust it. When I use it, I try to get across it as quickly as possible. Now, I understand that the curve bridge is in worse shape than anyone really knew. This will probably bring the issue of a new bridge in town to the forefront. It shows the importance of good bridges in this community."

Bye indicated that there was no estimate yet on how much the temporary repairs to the curve bridge would be or how much it would cost to replace or completely rebuild it.

"We're going to be looking for grants or help from the state to assist with the funding," he said. "It's going to take time."

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    Milltown Bridge
    March 12, 2008 | 12:50 PM

    I believe a picture of the curved bridge going into Milltown was used on the Indiana drivers license back in the 60's.
    I also think it was on every title that was issued.

    Jerry M. Harpe
Barbara Shaw
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