Landmark News Service
At the annual parish turkey supper at Holy Trinity Catholic Church last weekend, Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles thought he might get an earful from constituents about the closing of the Old Fredericktown Road bridge. He was “pleasantly surprised” that only two or three people mentioned it to him and were unbiased about it.
Recently, the 200-foot-long span over the Beech Fork River and Cartwright Creek was closed by the Nelson County Fiscal Court because of structural issues. But most of the people adversely affected live in Washington County.
Officials of both counties are considering whether it should be repaired or permanently closed.
Settles said he would like to see the bridge repaired if it doesn’t cost too much.
“I’m still hopeful that we can open it back up,” he said. “There aren’t many of those old bridges left. They’ve gone the way of the covered bridges. They are kind of engineering models.”
The bridge at “the Burg,” built in the first decade of the 20th century, is listed as a Nelson County bridge by the state Transportation Cabinet, but Settles thinks it may be owned by both counties. It has been declared structurally deficient by the state and reduced to a 6,000 pound carrying capacity.
“I’m not going to open it back up with a three-ton weight limit,” Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts said Monday.
Watts said a state engineer would be inspecting it this week, probably Thursday, and county officials will make a determination about whether to repair the bridge.
Many of the timbers that make up the flooring of the bridge are rotted out or broken, and parts of the undergirding are corroded, he said. It’s possible the two counties could replace the wooden deck, as they did six years ago, and even make sure repairs to the steel structure, but Watts has said he isn’t optimistic.
Watts and Settles have been in discussion about the bridge since Nelson County closed it the first week of this month.
“I would keep an open mind until we get an engineer’s evaluation,” Settles said.
The Washington County Fiscal Court discussed the bridge at a meeting Monday morning, and Magistrate Greg Sims, whose district Fredericktown is in, said he didn’t know the bridge had been closed until the weekend.
“I’m most definitely for keeping it open,” Sims said right after the meeting.
Nearly everyone in Fredericktown wants to try to save the bridge, he said.
Two of the residents who are most concerned about the bridge being closed are Charles Blevins and his wife, Betty. They both have health problems. She has multiple sclerosis, and he had a stroke a few years ago that “handicapped” him a little, he said.
The Blevinses said that when it floods on their road, their only way in and out of their home is over the old bridge because they can’t get out onto nearby U.S. 150 from the Washington County side.
“If they close that and (the water) gets up over the road in the night, we’re just locked in,” he said. “It blocks our escape route for us.”
The bridge also gives residents a way to get around the traffic tie-ups at the U.S. 150 bridge whenever there is an accident there, Blevins said.
“I understand them not wanting to spend the money on it,” he said. But the residents’ interests should be considered.
“They shouldn’t just write us off,” he said.
Vicky Morgan said she and her husband, Gary, who live near the Blevinses, don’t have as bad a flooding problem as their neighbors, but the old bridge is sometimes their only way out.
She said officials may not realize how much the bridge is used. When there’s a wedding or reception, or some other big event going on at Holy Trinity’s parish center, it can cause congestion in the Burg.
“There’s so much activity down there at the church that traffic is terrible up through here,” Morgan said.
“When you’re used to having that bridge, it’s a big issue,” she said. “I use that bridge all the time.”
Donnie and Verna Kays have farmland on both sides of the bridge. They live on the Washington County side, and their son, Billy Brady, and his wife, Samantha, live on the Nelson County side. The bridge is convenient for them, Donnie Kays said, but he understands that it may not be feasible to repair it.
If the bridge is permanently closed, though, he said he’ll ask that the road be closed as well. He said he doesn’t want the old bridge to be a place for people to park and get drunk or take drugs.
His wife was more adamant.
“We already have problems with people down on our farm uninvited,” she said. “I’m just not going to put up with that at all.”
“We just don’t want to be disturbed down here,” she said.
Verna Kays said that although she and her husband live in Fredericktown, they pay property taxes to both counties, and most of their “business dealings” are in Nelson County.
John Metcalf, who now lives on Holy Cross Road near New Haven, lived in the Burg as a boy and has fond memories of the old bridge. He remembers what it sounded like to hear the boards rattle as his father drove the family car across its timbers in the late 1940s and early 50s.
“I think it would be a disgrace to see the bridge end when it would only take a few thousand dollars to fix it,” he said. “It’s a landmark.”
“It’s the last overhead steel structure type bridge we have in our county,” Watts said.
It’s also the only one that is listed as structurally deficient, and it could take more than a few thousand dollars to fix it.
Nelson County Magistrate Sam Hutchins thinks that just replacing the boards would cost about $40,000, and Jim Lemieux, the Nelson County road department engineer said replacing the bridge could cost $1.5 million or more.