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Stimulus could fund trestle replacement

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Bridge work could begin March 1

By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN

jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

FORT KNOX — Hardin County government is sponsoring an application for a grant that could fund a $25 million project to replace roughly 120-year-old railroad trestles on post.

While the large steel bridges are considered safe, there are flaws such as fatigue cracks and upkeep is expensive for Paducah & Louisville Railway.

The federal stimulus money would improve a line that is economically important to the area. For instance, it’s the only rail service to the Elizabethtown Dana Corp., which ships vehicle frames to Louisville. And no other line serves this growing Army post, which, according to the application, makes the railway important to national defense.

Plus, if a proposed passenger service between Elizabethtown and Louisville were to begin, the cars would travel over the bridges, which are near West Point.

Awards are expected to be announced by Feb. 15. If the grant is awarded, work on the new concrete trestles would begin March 1 and be finished by September 2011.

One of the two trestles  is 580 feet long and 90 feet high, and the other is 712 feet long and 120 feet high.

The new ones would be constructed next to the old ones, which will be used during the project to keep service disruption at a minimum, Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry Berry said.

Replacing the bridges could help with future economic development, he said.

P&L approached county officials after unsuccessfully asking the state to sponsor the U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

State Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said the decision was not a reflection on the project’s worthiness.

The cabinet instead chose to focus on efforts that involved Kentucky and another state, because those are what will receive federal priority. An example is the replacement of the Milton-Madison bridge from Trimble County to Indiana.

The competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant program has a pool of $1.5 billion.

P&L, which would put $2 million toward the project, is seeking $22 million in TIGER funds and would bond the final million.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Tom Garrett, P&L spokesman and executive vice president. The company was one of a limited number of applicants invited to Washington to make a pre-application presentation, he said. “We feel like we were well-received.”

Garrett said he was told they would be competing with probably 1,000 applicants — and he appreciated the county’s support.

Being a small company, the railway would have trouble paying for the construction on its own.

The work would benefit the local economy, Garrett said. Building the bridges is expected to create almost 300 jobs.

Whether the company will take down the old trestles has not been decided, Garrett said. The state has deemed them historically significant, so if they are removed, they would first be studied and documented.

John Friedlein can be reached at 505-1746.