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Old Fredericktown bridge closed

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Randy Patrick
Landmark News Service

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The one-lane metal bridge on Old Fredericktown Road may not reach the century mark. Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts ordered the county bridge closed last week because its wooden deck is rotted and its metal corroded.

“It was in horrible shape,” Watts said Wednesday after he visited the bridge and ordered it closed.

In his opinion, the bridge is unsafe.

The bridge’s capacity had recently been downgraded to three tons, or 6,000 pounds, after a state inspection, the judge said.

“There are pickup trucks that weigh more than that,” he added.

Chris Jessie, public affairs officer for the state Department of Highways’ District 4 office in Elizabethtown, said Friday the bridge is the only one in Nelson County that has been labeled “structurally deficient” by the Transportation Cabinet.

The definition of a structurally deficient bridge is one that has a National Bridge Inventory general condition rating of four or less on a scale of one to nine. The Fredericktown bridge, records show, has a deck rating of five, a superstructure rating of four and a substructure rating of four. A four is classified as “poor.”

Jessie said that because it’s a county bridge, the state doesn’t have the authority to open or close the bridge.

“We give a recommendation based upon the inspections, and it’s up to the county to decide,” he said.

David Kemper, an engineer and the state bridge inspector for District 4, will look at it soon and make a recommendation, he said.

County Road Department Supervisor Jim Lemieux said Friday the bridge is “not worth putting a lot of money into.”

Twenty-seven of the boards that make up the deck of the bridge are rotted, and some are broken out, he said. He estimated it would cost between $30 and $40 a board, plus labor, to replace them.

Replacing the entire deck, as Magistrate Sam Hutchins suggested at a Fiscal Court meeting last Tuesday, would likely cost about $40,000, Lemieux said. That’s about what it cost in 2006, when the deck was replaced, with Washington County bearing half of the cost.

“Those oak boards haven’t held up as well as we thought they would,” Lemieux said.

When the bridge was built, Fredericktown Road was the main road between Bardstown and Springfield, but U.S. 150 and its new bridge, which is under reconstruction, is a short distance from the old span.
Replacing the bridge with a modern one would probably cost about $2 million, he guessed.

“There’s no need for the bridge at all,” he said.

Norma Mudd, 80, who lives in Fredericktown, disagrees.

While the new bridge on U.S. 150 has been under construction, the Fredericktown Bridge has given residents a way to get around the construction site, she said.

Many people still use the bridge, she said.

“Everybody around here don’t want to see it closed,” she said.
Her husband, Bill Mudd, also thinks the bridge could be saved.
“I think the bridge will last awhile longer. All they need to do is fix the bottom,” he said. “They just need a steel floor across there.”

The wooden beams should have been replaced with a steel base long ago, he said.

Bobby McDonald of Fredericktown also doubts that the steel is structurally unsound.

“Is it corroded enough to make it unsafe?” he asks.

Lemieux said the bridge was built in 1904, but McDonald said it was constructed in 1909 by the Champion Bridge Company of Ohio. The first bridge in that location, where Cartwright Creek joins Beech Fork River, was a covered bridge that was burned by soldiers during the Civil War, he said.

The bridge is part of the community’s history.

“I’d hate to see it go down,” he said.

Watts said he knows people in Fredericktown have a “sentimental attachment” to the bridge, but it cannot be replaced at the county’s expense.

“That’s a cost that we could never bear, and it would not make sense to bear it,” the judge said.

Watts said he and other officials are going to be discussing the bridge and deciding whether or not to repair it for passenger cars or for a pedestrian bridge, but added: “It doesn’t look very favorable.”

Hutchins said he has asked a lumber company for a price on four-by-eight-foot treated beams. After county officials “get some numbers together” and hear from the state engineers, they’ll decide whether the repairs are worth making, he said.

“I know there are some folks in Fredericktown who want to salvage the bridge, and I’m not opposed to that, but I’m not going to do it if it’s not safe,” Hutchins said.