By Dave Pearce.
A press conference held at the base of a “tainted” New Harmony Bridge on Thursday was designed to draw attention to the span that once connected New Harmony to Illinois. The bridge was closed last month after the White County Bridge Commission determined that the bridge was no longer safe for travel.
Trent Van Haaften, candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives District 76 called the press conference.
Van Haaften stated that he has worked with former USI President and perhaps the biggest fan of the bridge, Dr. David Rice. Van Haaften said Rice had described, in jest, that the bridge was “tainted,” as Illinois says “tain’t ours” and Indiana says “tain’t ours either.”
Van Haaften called for three steps to be taken.
“For years, Indiana has looked for a solution to keep the New Harmony Bridge open,” Van Haaften said to open the news conference. “It is an important artery that serves not only New Harmony but all of southwestern Indiana.
“As I have thought about this and see our current leaders are just now looking for a solution since the bridge has been closed, I know that we can do something toward preserving this New Harmony Bridge,” Van Haaften said.
Van Haaften, a former state representative, said the solution comes in three steps, with the first being Congress untying the hands of the Bridge Commission and empowering it to transfer the title and ownership to a willing state government. Van Haaften said he urges all area residents to contact their congressional representatives and urge Congress to take action to give the commission the right to do just that.
He went on to explain that the Bridge Commission is comprised of three appointed members, two from Illinois and one from Indiana. Since that time, Congress has passed additional language that prohibits any replacement of those three.
“For example, if one of those members moved to California and no longer wanted to serve on it, there is no mechanism in place to replace that member,” he sated. “It then becomes a two member bridge commission. I respect those three members but down the road, you are going to have a bridge with no oversight. Once those three members are gone, there is no oversight for this bridge. None of us want to see that. Past Congressional action has created probably the biggest obstacle to all of this. That’s why I am calling for this action. This is the only bridge this bridge commission has. The State of Indiana has thousands of bridges. The State of Indiana has the expertise to take a look at this and say, ‘this is the range of options we have, repair, rehab, or replace.’ Or it may be that the final decision is that we can’t change the status quo and it will remain closed. But at least, the state would have made the effort to determine that.”
“This bridge was created by an act of Congress and it is going to take Congressional action to get this bridge on the move back ,” Van Haaften said. “Understand that this bridge is owned and operated not by a government entity but by a three-member bridge commission. I applaud the valiant effort the bridge commission has made so far in just keeping this bridge open for as long as it has. But it is time to move ownership of the bridge to a governmental entity. And we are well positioned to do this. Our congressman from the Eight District is on the House Transportation Committee.”
The second step, according to the candidate, is for the State of Indiana to step up.
“The states of Indiana and Illinois have both long said ‘This bridge does not belong to us, we can’t help,’” Van Haaften said. “It is the right time for Indiana to step up because the most difficult decision has already been made. The Bridge Commission made the most difficult decision by closing this bridge. If Indiana takes ownership now, they are not going to be held responsible for the closing of the bridge. But what they can do is be a savior and rehab or replace this bridge.”
The final step, according to Van Haaften, is to do the right kind of study to determine what it will take to rehab or replace the bridge. After such a study would be completed, then Indiana could step in as a savior and reopen the bridge.
“I am here to urge everyone to urge our congressional delegation to give the bridge commission the power to transfer the ownership of the bridge,” Van Haaften said. “The bridge commission should then do the right thing and transfer that ownership. But none of this can take place without the first step being taken.”
He went on to say that he has heard reports of rehabbing or replacing the bridge coming with a pricetag of anywhere from $2 to $8 million. He said that just recently, INDOT had offered to give Posey County over $2 million if the county would take possession of the bridge. He said from that offer, it is apparent that the finances do exist at the state level.
“If Congress and the State of Indiana will step up, they can work together and solve this problem,” Van Haaften concluded. “To take ownership of this bridge would cost no tax dollars for Congress or the State other than the paper that act is written on. That empowers the bridge commission to take the next step.”