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Public leans toward cable design for 2 lake bridges

By Julia Hunter, New Era Staff Writer

AURORA, Ky. — If the local residents who showed up at the Lake Bridges Public Involvement Meeting Thursday night have their way, Trigg County will see two cable-stayed bridges over Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

More than 170 residents of western Kentucky, a majority from Trigg County, showed up at Kenlake State Resort Park to give their opinions on what the new bridges should look like.

The current bridges, which were built in 1932, have been ruled as “functionally obsolete” and have been on Kentucky’s Six-Year Road Plan since 1996. They have had ongoing maintenance issues and, with vehicles increasing in size since 1932, many motorists say the bridges are too narrow.

Last year, Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced the beginning of the $2.5 million design phase. The entire project is set to cost $150 million.

A July 19 public meeting kicked off the design selection phase for the two bridges, during which 300 locals showed up to voice their opinions. During that meeting, the decision was made to use identical designs for both sites, with about 75 percent of the vote.

Thursday, residents were presented with nine options that had been narrowed down from the initial 23 bridge designs shown during the first meeting.

The designs included two arch bridge designs, five cable-stayed bridge designs, a truss bridge design and a girder bridge design. Lifelike virtual representations of the bridge designs were projected onto a screen for the audience. Photographs of the Kentucky Lake bridge area were superimposed with illustrations of the new bridge alternatives, complete with rippling water, sunlight and surrounding wildlife.

Attendees also had the opportunity to drive over and take a speed boat under each bridge – all from the comfort of their seats. Digital imaging was used to create a 15 second virtual video clip of what the bridges would look like in both scenarios.

After each scenario was shown, members of the audience were given the opportunity to rate each design using electronic polling handsets. They rated each bridge on a scale from one to 10 – with their only concern being the aesthetic value of each design. Each alternative had been designed considering the same environmental, financial and safety factors, officials said.

Ranking the highest during all three scenarios was a cable-stayed bridge design, depicting twin diamond-shaped towers. Other popular bridges included two other cable-stayed bridge designs, one with two separate towers located in the median of the highway and another cable-stayed bridge, which depicted an “H-shaped” tower in the middle of the bridge.

The audience was also given the opportunity to comment on why they did or didn’t like certain designs. The crowd was split on many design aspects, such as how tall the bridge towers should be. Engineers from Louisville-based Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., were presented to take in the public’s opinion.

“It will help guide us in the design process,” said James Williams, the agency’s vice president.

Many were concerned with details such as bridge clearance, cost, lighting and safety. Officials said all the bridge designs can be adapted to include a variety of details, however, during Thursday’s meeting the committee was only interested in what bridge the public thought was most visually appealing.

“Since the beginning of this process, one of the most interesting things for me has been a lot of people equate ugly with cheap,” said Keith Todd, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “They say ‘just build it fast and quick.’ They don’t understand for the same price, you can have a bridge that is aesthetically pleasing.”

A final public meeting will be held this winter, during which the public will be given the opportunity to comment on the final three design alternatives. With the public’s opinion considered, the final decision will be made by an executive committee, which has not yet been appointed, Todd said. The committee could include engineers, tourism officials and possibly the governor.

The final bridge may or may not be a design that has already been presented to the public, Todd said. It could be a modification of one of the designs, depending on what the public and those involved in the project decide will be best for the community, he said.

When the bridge construction is complete, the new bridges will be four lanes wide and have a pedestrian-bike lane. Engineers said they anticipated leaving the existing earthen causeways to allow for fishing and other activities.

Within the next few months, construction is to begin on the U.S. 68 corridor inside Land Between the Lakes. The expansion, which will be complete before bridge construction begins, will cost $50 million.

The new bridges will be built about 50 feet downstream from the old bridges, according to Todd, allowing motorists to use the old bridges until the new ones are complete.

Construction on the Lake Barkley bridge is set to begin first, with an anticipated start time of 2010. Construction on the Kentucky Lake bridge is set to begin in 2011. However, Todd said the start dates could always be altered, possibly evenbeginning both bridges simultaneously.

Those who were not able to attend the meeting, but wish to comment can send written comments to Tim Choate, Project Manager, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District One, P.O. Box 3010, Paducah, Ky., 42002. Comments can also be e-mailed to tim.choate@ky.gov.

More information on the bridges and comments from Thursday’s meeting can be found at www.lakebridges.com.

QuickInfo: Lake bridges timeline

Winter 2008: Final public meeting — the public will be given the opportunity to comment on a preference of three final bridge designs.

Spring 2008: Final bridge design announced.

2010: Construction to begin on Lake Barkley bridge.

2011: Construction to begin on Kentucky Lake bridge.

2014-2016: Lake Barkley bridge set for completion.

2015-2017: Kentucky Lake bridge set for completion.

JULIA HUNTER can be reached at 887-3262 or by e-mail at jhunter@kentuckynewera.com.