Broadway Bridge

City Commissioner Eric Whisman says the historic Broadway Bridge could be demolished by the end of the year if the city doesn't do something to save it. (Josh Bergeron | State Journal)

The Broadway Bridge is salvageable and an early estimate from one group shows it won’t cost more than $2.5 million.

That’s what a group of roughly two dozen concerned Frankfort residents learned  from Working Bridges Executive Director Julie Bowers at a community meeting Thursday night.

Dedicated to saving bridges across the country, the nonprofit organization was hired by the Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation and WalkBike Frankfort to explore how Frankfort can save the historic Broadway Bridge.

“There is absolutely, without a doubt, a way to save this bridge,” Bowers said.

The state, which owns the bridge, joined the City of Frankfort in paying for a feasibility study last summer to determine how much it would cost to renovate the bridge or demolish it.

According to the feasibility study by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Palmer Engineering, the Broadway Bridge is in a state of “imminent failure” and has been for quite some time. The bridge closed to all traffic in 1991.

Last month, KYTC officials asked the city if it wanted to take ownership of the bridge and assume liability. The city commission said no due to liability concerns and now the state is working on plans to demolish the bridge by the end of the year, according to City Commissioner Eric Whisman.

At Thursday's meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall on Bridge Street, Bowers said she and Whisman have spent the last several days doing historical research on the bridge and found it was first built as a railroad bridge in 1893, not 1910 as previously reported. The bridge was eventually converted to vehicle use.

Whisman said the second railroad built in the U.S. runs right through Downtown Frankfort.

“And people don’t realize how significant that is, but Frankfort was a site after the Civil War during Reconstruction … that all this solid Eastern Kentucky timber was being shipped to Frankfort down the river, sawed into lumber here, put on the railroad and shipped to Louisville, then shipped to markets all over the United States.

“Eastern Kentucky pine is responsible for reconstructing most of the U.S. after the Civil War, and that bridge was part of that.”

Last year, the state’s feasibility study revealed that rehabbing the bridge and doing a historic pier repair with a concrete path would cost $3.9 million. A rehab with a concrete path and concrete pier repair was estimated to cost $2.41 million.

To rehab the bridge with a wooden path and a historic pier repair was estimated to cost $3.77 million. To rehab the bridge with a wooden path and concrete pier repair was estimated to cost $2.28 million.

To do an entire superstructural removal and build an entirely new pedestrian bridge would cost $600,000 and $1.65 million, respectively, according to the study.

On Thursday, Bowers’ estimated it would cost about $2.47 million to restore the bridge to be a “linear park.”

Bowers described the Broadway Bridge as strong and unique but said there are some structural and environmental issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Bowers said lead paint is falling off the bridge into the Kentucky River beneath it. She also said chunks of steel underneath the bridge are at risk of falling on boats.

Bowers’ team of engineers would use techniques to repair and restore the bridge so that it would need minimal maintenance in the decades to come.

One of those techniques includes “blasting” the rust and lead paint off the bridge. The method Working Bridges’ engineers uses contains the rust and lead so it does not have a negative impact on the environment.

“You can save your own damn bridge,” Bowers said.

Whisman said the state is wary of transferring ownership of the bridge to anyone other than the city, so it is now his goal to show his fellow commissioners that the bridge is salvageable.

The state will give the $500,000 put aside to demolish the bridge to the city if it assumes ownership, Whisman said. 

Whisman and those at the meeting threw around the idea fundraising along with applying for grants to come up with remaining funds needed to save the Broadway Bridge.

For more information, visit the Save Broadway Bridge Facebook page.

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