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Public gets look at Green River crossing ideas
By Robyn L. Minor, The Daily News, April 15, 2009

LINCOLN — “Build a bridge” was briefly chanted by some in the crowd of 68 people gathered to hear Mammoth Cave National Park officials’ proposals for crossing the Green River.

Ferry service is in place to cross the river at two locations, but a bridge would provide improved travel as ferries do not operate 24 hours a day.

Lee Davis of Cave City told officials gathered at the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday that their buildable proposals really didn’t look all that feasible because of the costs involved.

“Are there not more alternatives that you can look at?” Davis asked.

Park Superintendent Patrick Reed said one of the purposes of the meeting was to see if residents had suggestions.

The options studied by park officials included a high bridge, which to be out of the 100-year-flood plain would span about 250 feet and cost about $50 million; a low bridge crossing about 20 feet above the river at a cost of $12.5 million; or making improvements to the existing ferry crossing that without a once needed parking lot and other improvements would run about $4 million, instead of the $6.7 million first thought.

Mammoth Cave resident Clayton Pardue asked if park officials considered moving the bridge either north or south of the current Green River crossing, so that the span would be shorter and presumably less costly.

The officials said they had not, but could consider moving the bridge.

Edmonson County Judge-Executive N.E. Reed said fiscal court favored building the low bridge.

“But this doesn’t look like what I envisioned,” Reed said.

Steve Kovar, chief of facilities management for the park, said the photo illustration was intended only to give an idea of what the crossing would look like, but the crossing “is not going to be that low,” he said.

But at some times during the year, high water may make it impassable for vehicles and not allow enough room under the crossing for canoes or boaters. In 2008, the ferry was closed seven times because of high water, compared to 19 for low water.

Most of the time, however, the ferry could pass through unimpeded, Kovar said.

Judge Reed also acknowledged that such a crossing didn’t currently meet either state or national highway standards.

“We have to get a variance,” he said.

Reed said he is lobbying for such a variance and knows that they have been issued for some projects but is unaware how often.

The judge also pointed out that river levels at the crossing will be permanently lowered once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes out lock and dam No. 6, or it breaches naturally.

Chris Mathews of Lincoln wanted to know why Green River Ferry was chosen first for improvements over the Houchins Ferry, which was more centrally located.

Traffic was the consensus, according to park officials. In 2008, 8,633 vehicles crossed at Houchins Ferry compared to about 86,000 vehicles at Green River Ferry.

“That’s because it’s essentially a mud road,” Mathews said.

Mathews also said the Houchins Ferry had limited operations. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5:55 p.m. March through November.

Terry Highbaugh of Lincoln asked if the option of improving the existing Green River Ferry was chosen, would more hours be added to the ferry’s work day.

“I have friends who live on the other side of the crossing,” he said. “We have to stop visiting because if we aren’t there before 9:56 p.m. we have to go all the way around.”

Superintendent Reed said the park would have to seek more operational funding in order to add hours to the operation that is 6 a.m. to 9:55 p.m. daily year round.

“I’m not talking all day but maybe just an hour to either side,” Highbaugh said.

Like Judge Reed, Pardue was concerned about what would happen if the Green River bridge in Brownsville was unusable because of an accident.

Pardue said the county’s emergency services are on the other side of the bridge and emergency crews would have to go a long way around to get into Brownsville.

Reed said it hasn’t happened yet “but it’s going to” be shut down at a time that prevents school buses getting children to and from schools.

“If that happens and we don’t build a bridge at Green River (crossing), can school buses get on the ferry?” he asked.

Superintendent Reed said it would depend on the weight of the bus.

Kovar said they also would have to have enough lifejackets on the ferry for all the passengers on the bus.

The ferry is currently made to carry three passenger cars or a truck and trailer across the river. But even then, Judge Reed said it’s up to the discretion of the ferry operator if the water is too low to carry a heavy truck and trailer.

On Tuesday, the river was up and the current was running swiftly, so low water was not an issue. Shortly after one car crossed, three others were on their way to the crossing, one in one direction and two in the other.

The park will take written comments for the next 30 days on the proposals before undertaking environmental assessments. The preferred alternative should be known in November.

But Superintendent Reed said he wants to make it clear that there is no money currently available for any of the options.

“We would have to work with our congressional and state delegations to get an appropriation,” he said.

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