Here’s hoping that separate projects that would close the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge in downtown Ashland and the Ironton-Russell Bridge do not occur at the same time. If they do, it will only make a bad situation that much worse.

The Kentucky Department of Transportation plans to let a contract to repaint the Williamson span on Martin Luther King Boulevard green in 2007. While the parallel Simeon Willis Bridge on 13th Street is in the process of being painted “Kentucky blue” with a minimal disruption in traffic flow, the Williamson bridge is expected to be closed to traffic for up to six months while it is sandblasted, primed and painted. Tentative plans call for the bridge to be closed from February through August of next year.

While that’s an inconvenience we don’t look forward to, we accept it as a necessity as long as workers work diligently to complete the painting project as quickly as possible. When the bridge was closed for a major overhaul in the 1990s, we complained frequently of the amount of time the project took not because we opposed the work but because so often there was no visible sign of any work taking place on the closed bridge.

While rerouting all the traffic to the Willis bridge did not prove to be overly difficult, having only one bridge did cause some serious traffic jams, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours. Expect those jams to return in 2007.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Transportation plans a $1.56 million rehabilitation of the Ironton-Russell Bridge, beginning in the fall of 2007. The bridge is expected to be closed for about 15 months while the work is done.

Approving the expenditure on the old bridge is an indication that plans for a new Ironton-Russell Bridge have been delayed indefinitely. The project was placed on the proverbial back burner earlier this year when bids for the new bridge came in millions of dollars higher than expected. The bridge now is being redesigned with hopes of bringing the cost down.

Meanwhile, ODOT plans to do what it must to keep the current bridge as safe as possible. The current bridge will be torn down when — or should we say if? — the new bridge connecting Third Street in Ironton with U.S. 23 in Russell is completed.

Surely, department of transportation officials in Ohio and Kentucky can work together to assure the two bridges are not closed at the same time. That can be easily accomplished by simply waiting until the painting is completed on the Williamson bridge before beginning work on the Ironton-Russell Bridge.

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