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Nearby Residents Worried About Safety Of Bridge

BURGIN, KY -- Despite signs warning of a 3-ton weight limit on the Kennedy Bridge between Garrard and Mercer counties, residents are worried about overweight trucks that could cause the aging structure to collapse, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

One nearby resident saw a tractor-trailer presumably over that limit crossing the span.

"I thought, 'Dear God, let him get across,'" said Kathy Williams, who manages Chimney Rock RV Park on the Mercer side of the lake, reports the Herald-Leader.

The deteriorating, corroded condition of the 84-year-old bridge has residents and state transportation officials concerned. Last year, the state lowered the bridge's weight limit from 10 tons to 3 tons.

Retiree Walt Deaton, 68, who lives part of the year at the RV park, said he won't cross the bridge when he's driving his Dodge Ram pickup and towing a 40-foot-long fifth-wheel trailer. The trailer alone weighs more than 7 tons, and the pickup weighs almost 3 tons, the Herald-Leader reports.

"When I leave here, I'll see a truck headed this way, and I know he's too big to go across that bridge," Deaton said.

Williams wants people pulling boats or driving big recreational vehicles to know the risk, especially now as campers and boaters head for the lake, the newspaper reports.

She is concerned that many travelers who bring their RVs to the park might be unaware of the weight limit, in spite of signs at both ends of the bridge.

"Now all the snowbirders in Florida are going home to Michigan and Canada, and they have no idea," she said.

The state encourages motorists driving vehicles heavier than 3 tons to find alternative routes to avoid the bridge, said David Thacker, spokesman for the Department of Highways District 7 office in Lexington, reports the newspaper.

"If you're a truck pulling a boat, or an RV or a semi truck, that reduced weight limit is up there for a reason," Thacker said. "If you're a truck with a boat, you're more than likely over the 3-ton limit. We don't want those vehicles crossing it for the simple fact of their own safety."

Thacker said it's safe for a car or small pickup to use the bridge, which has remained open so as not to restrict local traffic.

Kennedy Bridge -- not to be confused with the Kennedy Bridge that spans the Ohio River in Louisville -- was built in 1924 around the time Kentucky Utilities dammed the Dix River for hydroelectric power and created Herrington Lake. The two-lane bridge is 20 feet wide, 800 feet long, and stands about 60 feet above the lake, the newspaper reports.

In 2003, the state installed new steel decking and repaved the bridge. But Thacker said the entire structure needs to be replaced.

"However, funding is a major issue with that, because you're not talking about a simple repair project," he said. "You're talking about a $20 million-plus project to replace that bridge."

Replacement of the entire bridge is not in the state's current six-year road plan.

Before last year, the bridge was inspected every two years. Now it's inspected every three months to keep tabs on its condition, the Herald-Leader reports.

Of particular concern on recent inspections, including the last on Feb. 28, is a gusset plate on one pier. The plate, which connects a truss to the pier, has deteriorated to the point that it needs to be replaced, Thacker said. That work might happen this summer, provided that funding can be found.

"I feel sure they will make needed repairs to it," said Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler. "It's a high-focus item."

Williams said she has seen Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers stop trucks that appear to be over the weight limit. But Thacker said round-the-clock enforcement is not possible, reportgs the Herald-Leader.

"We can't have somebody there 24 hours a day just to ensure that heavier vehicles don't cross it," he said.

In the meantime, to get to marinas or other destinations on the Mercer side of the lake, motorists with loads of 3 tons or more should take Ky. 152 east from Burgin. Those going to destinations on the Garrard side of the lake should take Ky. 152 west from U.S. 27, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Copyright - The Lexington Herald-Leader
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