By Dave Pearce
As has been the case for so many years in the past, a meeting held on Saturday in Hew Harmony to give locals some hope that the span covering the Wabash River into Illinois didn’t do much along that line.
As a matter of fact, as the case in many of the past meetings, “when all was said and done, more was said than done.”
The meeting, which had been called by the White County Bridge Commission, a non-government entity which has overseen the bridge for years, did nothing but rehash what has been said over and over again. Members of the bridge commission have indicated they would be willing to sell the bridge to any public entity willing to take it over but thus far, they have had no offers.
“We have kicked this can down the road for quite some time with no success. No one seems to want this bridge. In my opinion we have taken it as far as we can go,” said the president of the three-member White County Bridge Commission Jim Clark. “I think it is a good time to bow out of this and let the state and federal (governments) do what they want to do.”
With a net income of about $80,000 a year, there was little left to do than to close the endangering bridge the week of Memorial Day. The annual earnings takes into account no bridge maintenance. The bridge has been patch-worked together many times since work on it began in 1929 and finished in 1931.
The original plan was to offer the bridge to either Illinois or Indiana once the construction bonds were retired. The bridge was paid off by July of 1955, and the commission offered the structure to both states. However, when engineers from both states inspected the bridge, they determined it was not in sound structural condition. Illinois officials said it did not meet the statutory requirements for that state to acquire it, and officials with Indiana also declined to accept the bridge in 1955 without Illinois’ acceptance.
In 1998, Congress eliminated the mechanism that allows for appointments to the commission. If the current members were to quit or die, the bridge would presumably fall back to federal oversight, said Mike Egbert, a bridge commission member.
The commission voted to permanently close the half-mile long bridge across the Wabash River linking Indiana and Illinois in May after a close-up inspection by engineers.
Posey County and Indiana State government officials have been told that the State of Illinois has no funds and even less interest in attempting to preserve the structure.
Indiana officials, who have indicated they might like to see further study done on the structure, have faced an impossible situation as the bridge is actually under the auspices of the White County Bridge Commission.
At this point, the bridge would have to be turned over to the State of Indiana before Hoosier money could be spent, even on a study. INDOT has been reluctant to assume control of the bridge simply because of the condition of the bridge and the responsibility that comes with it, whether it would mean simply tearing it down, repairing it, or rebuilding it. Any of the three options would be costly during tough economic times.
So in the meantime, the bridge will remain closed and area residents will be forced to drive either to the Mount Vernon bridge or to Interstate 64. The bridge will continue to stand and will continue to be a subject of election debate. But at the present time, nothing concrete has actually been accomplished. New Harmony businesses have reported a significant decrease in traffic.
By Dave Pearce
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