One description for the (2005) Madison movie trailer reads, “Residents of a small town in Indiana band together to try and save the dwindling population…” The movie is based on a true story. According to the city’s bicentennial webpage (1809-2009) the population in Madison, Indiana is currently about 13,000. According to Wikipedia, the population was 12,004 at the 2000 census. Well, it hasn’t grown much in 120 years or so, maybe a couple of thousand more live here now.
I watched a YouTube trailer and heard one of the actors say, “The whole town is obsolete.” Apparently, obsolescence is a problem that comes with some small-town life along the mighty Ohio River. Madison needs a new river crossing because the current truss-design bridge, built in 1929, is showing its age. Obsolete is the word some use to describe its functionality. In the case of this particular bridge, it is considered functionally obsolete, which means the 20-foot wide, no shoulder-no buffer (and no sidewalk) 80-year old structure cannot adequately accommodate modern vehicular traffic. I don’t cross it if I don’t have to— a sentiment held by many. More than one accident has occurred due to the inadequate width of the lanes on the bridge. An RV driver may not even notice he has knocked off someone’s mirror as he continues along (a true example).
I have read, from various sources, that approximately 10,000 vehicles use the bridge daily. That number was arrived at prior to the 15-ton weight limit. Within the last few months the weight limit has been lowered to 15 tons, which precludes most truck traffic. That doesn’t keep trucks over the 15-ton limit from using the bridge, as there is no enforcement of weight limits here. There will always be those trying to play by their own rules, but if the deterioration of the bridge continues at a rate higher than expected on initial reports, those cheating may well wind up in the drink, or at least exacerbate the problems exposed in a 2008 fracture critical report.
The attempts to decide and agree on a location and come up with the money has previously seemed a Sisyphean exercise. There was no agreement the last time a replacement bridge was considered. In 1995, during a routine bridge inspection, it was found that emergency repairs had to be made to the tune of $10 million. Repairs and indecision about where a new bridge might go pretty much stalled replacement talks, and here they are more than 10 years later, having that same discussion, having pushed the decision off onto another administration. The present attempt to get a replacement bridge is not without its problems.
In 1996, Madison received the distinction of becoming a designated National Historic Landmark District (NHL), downtown is within the National Register District (NR), with some areas within and outside of the city limits not included in the NHL district but still within the NR district. That complicates putting a bridge within the city limits because the impact in neighborhoods with historic structures must be considered, along with other environmental impacts generally studied. Milton, established by the law of Virginia in 1789, is one of the oldest towns in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Obviously it has its own historic districts as well, albeit much smaller than Madison’s district.
Many are embroiled in discussions about what closing the bridge might do to the area economically. This is quite the dilemma with no money to build a new bridge and needing to keep the connection to the other side of the river, where the miniscule downtown of Milton sits in the floodplain. Upper Milton is vertically “up the hill”, a dangerous truck route by itself, though still a major thoroughfare. According to today’s Wikipedia page, US Route 421 runs from Michigan City, Indiana to Fort Fisher, North Carolina. The problem is, when the Ohio River floods, there is no way to get “up the hill” or anyplace else really, on the Kentucky end of the bridge. Many are opposed to building a replacement bridge without addressing the floodplain issue.
I can certainly understand the concern, but to some extent people must make the realization that downtown Milton will always bein the floodplain unless some major earth-moving occurs. Anything short of a major viaduct will not change how one crosses the river from hillside locations in Milton, so Milton’s downtown would still be in the same predicament regardless. The issue downtown will not magically disappear because the bridge has new approaches, nor will it change if the bridge is placed upstream. Floodplain is still floodplain. None of the alternatives suggested can fix that.
What can be fixed is an obsolete bridge. A recent study indicates that this can be done safely, this being a reasonable alternative closing the bridge for 9 to 12 months, because a superstructure replacement bridge can be made on existing piers. That would be a “planned” closing, whereas if something else closes the bridge, just making necessary repairs would take longer than that. I suppose if there were many more millions available more expensive alternatives that wipe out an entire neighborhood might be considered by many folks a more feasible alternative. There is much to consider here.
I live in the neighborhood which would be directly impacted by any alternatives preferred (at this time) over the two superstructure options so I am not so hot to jump on anything that destroys the fabric of the entire neighborhood and really don’t understand how those with the “historic conscience” can say the best alternative is one that impacts more houses.
Some right of way issues could take years to resolve. I don’t even own any property in Madison, yet am willing to stand up for those that want to remain in the same house or in the same neighborhood their great grandparents lived in. It’s a matter of family, not wealth. Believe me, I understand economic hardship, but not everyone can be bought. No amount of dollars or landscaping on empty land where once a house stood can mitigate the impact for many whose voice is but a mutter under the raised voices of those who would put asunder an entire neighborhood.
There is a certain environmental justice that isn’t as easy as just-hand-the poor-guy-a-sum-of-money-and-make-him-move, and that goes for both sides of the river. Those that purport to want the historic nature of Milton and Madison to remain intact cannot just ignore those sections of town that aren’t as grand as those found in the visitor’s guide, such as the masterfully crafted Lanier Mansion in Madison, but the history is no less important in the eyes of a true historian. The history in the land on which the first settlers in Madison and Milton walked was here long before the fanciest digs were built.
There is real history in this neighborhood that has been ignored to this point. I know because I am the one writing the history in another blog. I never thought I would become the neighborhood historian; I assumed it was already there.
Another version of the movie trailer excludes that reference to Madison being “obsolete”. One trailer is a bit more upbeat. There is more than one perspective, but the fact is, the bridge IS obsolete and needs to be replaced. If the Milton-Madison project management team gets the applied-for TIGER grant which would pay for a superstructure replacement bridge with minimal approaches, I certainly hope that both communities can find creative new ways to look at this whole thing. Maybe a few new businesses will open, and if that is the case is there something wrong with a little competition now and then to make business owners look more closely at their own hours of operation or what it is they do to provide a service or product to the community? If tourism is the draw here some people haven’t gone along with the hours tourists might be wanting to look or shop, and you really cannot blame that on where the bridge sits or the approach to it.
I could go on for days on this subject, but will spare the reader my rant. Maybe a new approach really is needed, but surely the context is different.
The Milton-Madison website has posted a few simple FAQ’s for those willing to skip on over there. Of course, there are huge PDF files available there to read as well. 8)