Representatives from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 6 gave an updated presentation on its 4th Street Bridge project at the Newport Commission meeting on Monday, where many residents voiced their opinions on the designs.
The feedback from concerned residents and commissioners consisted of appreciation for the considerations KYTC took in their updated designs for the state-owned and funded bridge but found them lacking public input overall. The topics consistently brought up were the cabinet choosing a four-lane design instead of three lanes and the lack of rail for a future streetcar.
Covington resident Susan Gray said she lives in the city for its walkability and walks the Fourth Street Bridge, officially named the KY 8 Licking River Bridge, almost daily. She shared the opinion of many others who spoke at the meeting that the new bridge did not need to be four lanes.
“Tonight, there was a Bengals game at 6:15 p.m.,” Gray said. “I was walking across the Fourth Street Bridge, and I took a slew of photos from both directions. There are wide open lanes. Pauses with no cars in either direction.”
Newport Commissioner Ken Rechtin asked KYTC if they tabulate public input from the many comments they have received on the project and if they take the feedback into their service decisions.
Rechtin said his questions came from a 2016 traffic study documentation indicating that the bridge would not require four lanes. However, Project Manager Corey Wilson and Branch Manager–Project Development & Design Mike Bezold with KYTC said during the meeting that it did need four lanes. Their reasoning was to accommodate developments like what’s happening in Covington at the former IRS site, Ovation, and the Margaritaville resort in Newport.
“Tell me how all of this input comes into this,” Rechtin said. “I’m going to be sarcastic: is there a box that you check in order to get past your bosses in Frankfort, or is it really input that you receive, internalize, and has an effect on the design and the functionality of three lanes versus four lanes?”
Wilson said their public information officer tracks comments, especially what comes in through their website; however, Bezold said public input on whether the bridge should have three lanes or four has “no bearing on it at all.”
“When you look at the traffic numbers, which we have existing traffic numbers, that show the need for a four-lane facility here,” Bezold said. “So, when existing traffic numbers show the need for it, and we’re building this for 50 years in the future, we cannot build a three-lane bridge here because existing traffic numbers warrant a four-lane bridge.”
Rechtin asked KYTC if they could provide the new data showing the need for four lanes because he said their previous data did not support that.
Bezold said they will release the data once their traffic study in both Covington and Newport is complete.
Gray also called out the KYTC representatives during the meeting for not directly answering the commission’s questions and for their comments on not accepting public input on the number of bridge lanes.
“I actually heard with my ears KYTC say that public comment basically doesn’t factor,” Gray said. “They actually said that. How offensive. We live here because we love living here. And you come into this meeting, and that actually said that public comment doesn’t factor.”
Rechtin said he has never seen KYTC underbuild anything, and the Taylor Southgate Bridge and Girl Scout Bridges indicate that. He said when the Girl Scout Bridge was constructed, the public didn’t have any input, and they ended up with four 12-foot lanes and a 5-foot sidewalk with “no protection for pedestrians.”
“So, when you say ‘trust me,’ I have a little heartburn, and when you say ‘we’re the engineers, we know best,’ the best that you have produced for us so far that I see is the Girl Scout Bridge,” Rechtin said.
Upon Rechtin concluding his remarks, the audience clapped and shouted, “Here, here.”
Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. said the biggest concern with the bridge is safety and asked what would be implemented to calm the traffic since the bridge will be four lanes.
KYTC said the lane width will be tighter at 11 feet versus the current 12 feet, which will help reduce speed. They said they are also considering lowering speeds on Garrard Street in Covington to help with the bridge.
“It (the design) is better,” Gray said. “There is consideration, thank goodness… other things have been in the works and in your ear for quite a number of weeks and months now, and you have no answer for that.”
KYTC not including plans for rail in their designs was also a point of contention amongst residents at the meeting. Newport Commissioner Beth Fennell asked the representatives if they were precluding rail or if there would be an option to add it in the future because she said studies show the rail coming over the 4th Street Bridge.
If the light rail came to Newport, KYTC said that would need to be evaluated at that time, and it is not included in their current design.
Guidugli asked them if the designs would be able to support rail capacity. They said they didn’t know, and the designers would have to evaluate it. The representatives said the new bridge would lift the weight restriction that prevents tank buses on the current one.
Another person who spoke at the meeting was Newport resident Bob Yoder, who served two terms as Chair of the Tri-State Trails Executive Committee. Tri-State Trails connects people and places with regional trail and bikeway networks.
Yoder said looking forward 20-25 years, he doesn’t think streetcar usage will be as widespread, though he has championed rail in the past. He said he supported a four-lane bridge to plan for the future.
“I would encourage you to support giving as much capacity as possible,” Yoder said. “So maybe we can do bus rapid transit… You want to have the capacity, so we have the choices for the future.”