WICKLIFFE, Ky. (KFVS) - A focus group met for the first time Thursday Nov. 14 to give their input on the construction of a new U.S. 51 Ohio River bridge between Cairo, Ill. and Wickliffe, Ky.
The goal of the meeting and others like it down the road will be to give balanced feedback to the bridge design team bridge on how their decisions will affect the environment and communities on both sides of the river.
Vernon Stubblefield of Cairo Ill. is part of the Citizens Advisory committee, which is made up of more than dozen stakeholders and community members who live near by.
Stubblefield has seen the wear and tear on the bridge over the years.
“You consider the type of vehicles that they had going across this bridge when they completed it in 1938. Much different than what we’ve got going over today,” Stubblefield said. “From what I understand its one of the two most hit bridges in the United States in regards barges and other vehicles hitting the structure, so the fact that it has lasted this long is a blessing.”
Some people were late to Thursday’s meeting because one lane of the bridge was temporarily closed because a crew was making basic deck repairs.
Stubblefield added that U.S. 51 is fastest route between Kentucky and Illinois for many people, and commuters need something new.
“When I go to the doctor or to get my medicines I come over this bridge, so it’s a lifeline really," Stubblefield said. "You know the patchwork, you reach a point where it has to end. I mean there has to be some permanency.”
Keith Todd with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says they will continue to hold annual public meetings to share their plans for the bridge, buts said the focus group will be able to give the bridge design team feed back on short notice.
“There is a lot of back and forth with the Federal agencies," Todd said. “We are talking to the US Coast Guard about the navigation channel. We’re talking to the US Army Corps of Engineers. We’re talking to state and federal wildlife people because we are right there at the edge of the wildlife refugee. There is just a lot of issues out there to be dealt with and this group will give us some guidance as we start through that process.”
As for Stubblefield he is glad his voice will be heard, not forgotten.
“I’m just wanting to know how the process works out. How Cairo which is my community is going to be involved in the process," Stubblefield said. "What are going to be the benefits to us, what are going to be the detriments to us. Just to be open and honest about what is going on.”
Construction of the replacement bridge will not start for another decade or more, but the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Illinois Department of Transportation will continue maintaining the current bridge until the new one is complete.