The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet gave the city of Frankfort several months to figure out how it might take ownership of the Broadway Bridge. At the time, cabinet leadership said that if the city did not opt to take over the bridge or find another entity to do so by a certain date, the state would proceed with demolishing the bridge.
Now that deadline, April 30, has come and gone; however, advocates for saving the bridge say there could still be a way.
Former City Commissioner Eric Whisman, a historic preservationist by trade, has been a voice for preserving the bridge from early on.
Whisman said he believes more state money could be available to the city than the initially offered $600,000 — a figure KYTC believed to be roughly equivalent to the cost of demolition — and that entities other than the city may be interested in helping finance the bridge’s rehabilitation.
“The Heritage Council has found some additional funding to contribute to the project,” Whisman said. “And I think the state has found that the demolition cost is going to be more than they had offered to the city initially, so there's likely over a million dollars of funding available at the moment.”
The Heritage Council is an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet that serves as the State Historic Preservation Office. A spokesperson for the Heritage Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last week, KYTC spokesperson Stephanie Caros sent The State Journal a statement expressing the cabinet’s intention to eventually demolish the bridge, calling demolition the “preferred alternative.”
At the city commission’s meeting last week, City Manager Tom Russell referred to the possibility of the state's taking six to eight months after the deadline to begin demolishing the bridge.
Whisman guessed that the state wouldn’t be able to do anything at the site until this fall.
Caros, in the cabinet’s statement, didn’t offer a timeline but did reference a litany of procedural steps the project would still have to go through before demolition, such as further Section 106 review as required by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
“Following the aforementioned deadline, the Cabinet will make a selection of the Preferred Alternative,” Caros wrote. “Following this selection, the Section 106 process will continue with a final meeting of the Consulting Parties to discuss Mitigation of Effects of the Preferred Alternative. Once complete, the Cabinet will begin collaboration with FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) to produce a full section 4f statement and develop documentation of its decision to satisfy requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Once these procedural items are complete and relevant approvals/permits are in place, the project will be let for a construction contract.”
Last year the cabinet partnered with the city to pay for a feasibility study that deemed the structure, which has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1993, to be in a state of “imminent failure.”
The latest estimates from KYTC for rehabilitation of the bridge range from $3.88 million to $4.25 million, not including maintenance. The state estimated the cost of replacing the current bridge with a new pedestrian bridge to be just over $2 million.
At a February city commission meeting, droves of Frankfort residents submitted letters in support of finding a way to save the bridge.
The inability of the city to insure the bridge was a major roadblock in the city commission’s consideration of taking it over. Russell said that the city’s insurance provider, after an extensive search, was unable to find an insurance option for the city to assume control of the historic bridge.
Whisman said that he believes the inability to insure the bridge would only apply to insurance while it’s being rehabilitated, and that the state could maintain ownership while that work takes place.
The city did not respond to a State Journal inquiry regarding the insurance question by press time.
In trying to rally support for saving the bridge, Whisman said he will focus on getting Frankfort residents to contact U.S. Andy Barr in support of the city’s request for the bridge to receive federal funding.
Though all city commission members have expressed support for a walkable path crossing where the bridge now stands — a rehabilitation of it is included in the city's downtown master plan — Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge has decried heavy spending on the project as wasteful.