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Ashland bridge closure complicates Memorial Day weekend for Ironton

May. 25, 2013 @ 11:15 PM

IRONTON -- Ironton's population will grow to about three times its usual size this holiday weekend thanks to the nation's longest running Memorial Day Parade on Monday, along with a number of class reunions.

With all those people descending on the community, the closure of the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge in Ashland will complicate things further.

"I'm continuing to get complaints about the traffic," Mayor Rich Blankenship said Saturday.

Kentucky highway officials closed the bridge that regularly brings 20,000 cars per day from Ohio to downtown Ashland on Thursday for safety measures. Kentucky officials are looking at several options, including whether repairs can be made in-house or whether the project will have to be bid out. No decisions have been made at this point.

A structural steel support on the Ohio side was mangled last week, prompting Kentucky officials to initially limit the traffic to passenger vehicles and posting a 10-ton weight limit. Kentucky officials decided to close the bridge after heavy truck traffic ignored the posted limits and continued to cross the bridge.

The one-way bridge connecting U.S. 52 at Coal Grove to U.S. 23 and U.S. 60 in Ashland will be closed at least through the holiday weekend. While traffic is being rerouted via the Jesse Stuart Bridge in the Greenup, Ky., area or the Nick Joe Rahall Bridge in Huntington, many motorists opted for the 91-year-old Ironton-Russell Bridge.

"It will be congested big time during the parade," Blankenship said. "We closed down South 3rd Street for the parade. It will be hard to get on the bridge. People will have to be patient."

The parade starts at 10 a.m. Monday and runs for about three hours.

"This is Ironton's big weekend," Blankenship said. "A lot of people come home for the Memorial Day weekend. We have the parade, the Charity Fair and three or four class reunions. We're expecting 30,000 for the parade."

The Charity Fair at Ironton St. Joseph started Friday evening and runs through the parade.

Don Moore, director of the electronic media program at Ohio University Southern, saw a trip that normally takes only a few minutes take an hour and 20 minutes after the Ashland bridge was closed.

"The frustrating thing is that only about four cars at a time can get through the light onto U.S. 23," Moore said. His commute home to the Argillite, Ky., area will take about 10 minutes longer using the Greenup Dam bridge, he said.

The Ashland bridge closure also is causing problems for the Sureway Cab Co. in Ironton, said owner Bob Cleary. "It's created quite an issue for us and our customers. It's a real hardship."

The cab company takes a number of customers from the Ironton area to Russell and Ashland, Cleary said.

"Trips that normally take 15 to 20 minutes are taking 30 to 45 minutes. We aren't increasing fares, so we're facing lost revenue and lost time. It's a real inconvenience for our customers. It's a mess. It's terrible."

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