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More than a year after Newby bridge closed, residents still isolated

Madison Bridge 6.png
Posted at 6:30 PM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 19:26:31-04

NEWBY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The small community of Newby in Madison County is not far from vital resources and medical services, but for nearly two years there's been a big roadblock standing in the way.

A small one-lane bridge at the intersection of Maple Grove Road and Tates Creek Road served as the main way for residents of Newby to get to and from Richmond.

But in April 2020, that bridge was officially shut down for safety concerns, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Residents say access to the bridge had been restricted by barricades even before that.

With the bridge closed and eventually demolished, residents have seen their commute times dramatically increase, sometimes adding 30 or 45 minutes to what used to be quick trips. The bridge outage has also complicated emergency vehicle responses and school bus rides.

People who live in Newby say hundreds of families are directly affected by the bridge closure, while dozens more have had to deal with longer drives to work on their farms on the other side of the creek.

The state transportation cabinet announced this April — more than a year after the bridge closed — that it would be replaced. At the time, the cabinet said that construction was set to begin this May and the bridge was expected to be done in late August.

But as of late October, the bridge is still far from finished. There have been a number of delays, residents say. Most recently, concrete that had been poured on the banks of the creek to support the bridge failed a strength test and had to be dug up and re-poured.

Ashlie Hatton, owner of Newby Country Store, said that the people of Newby are patient, but that people have grown frustrated with the ongoing delays. Beyond the inconvenience, the bridge’s closure has caused safety concerns, residents say.

The old bridge into Newby (right) was closed down in April 2020 for safety concerns. The construction of the new bridge (left) is scheduled to be completed in December.

“I think everyone out here is so incredibly gracious and kind that it takes just getting, I mean two years and that many tragedies later and finally we’re all like ‘okay this is enough,’” Hatton said.

Ambulance arrival times have been more than doubled to some parts of Newby since the bridge closed, residents say. The delay has become a problem in multiple wrecks and medical emergencies, and one house in the community caught fire and was fully engulfed before emergency vehicles could reach it, Hatton said.

Another man, Billy Dargavell, waited 45 minutes for an ambulance as he struggled to breathe after choking.

“We're only about three-quarters a mile from the bridge and only five minutes from the nearest ambulance service,” Dargavell said. “So yeah, that's pretty scary.”

Emergency crews had to go a roundabout route through winding roads, and the response time was only worsened by an ice storm that had moved through the area the day Dargavell choked.

Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, has been pushing for the bridge to be finished, saying that the problem could have been in the amount of time allotted in the contract. The job was initially set to be completed in about 4 months, but the contract allowed for 8 months.

“The contract just shouldn't have been written until December 1st,” Bray said. “In my conversations with the transportation department, they all realize this.”

The cabinet wrote in a recent statement that contractor staff shortages had impacted the timeline.

The concrete that failed the strength test has been replaced and work has resumed, according to the cabinet. The state has assured that the bridge will be done by the December 1 deadline.

“Safety is our driving force and we look forward to recommissioning a safe and sound bridge to travelers,” the cabinet said.

The Maple Grove Road bridge is part of a statewide project to reopen closed bridges and “improve bridge lifespans.”