MOUNT VERNON, Indiana — An aging Wabash River bridge that's been closed for 2½ years because of unsafe conditions is unlikely to reopen or be demolished anytime soon despite the commissioners of southwestern Indiana's Posey County agreeing to accept legal ownership of the span Tuesday.
The commissioners voted 2-1 to buy the new Harmony Bridge linking Indiana and Illinois for $1 but attached conditions that left area residents worried the span's future will remain in question for the foreseeable future. For the time being, the bridge remains the property of the White County (Illinois) Bridge Commission, which has only two members left: Mike Egbert and David Rice, the former University of Southern Indiana president.
"I don't think me or Dr. Rice are going to stay on forever," Egbert told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1qXdw8c ).
The commissioners committed themselves in August to take over the bridge, but that commitment did not involve a title transfer. Commissioners Jim Alsop and Jerry Walden said the terms they attached Tuesday are aimed at protecting Posey County from financial risk.
The conditions for a title transfer approved by the commissioners state that no county tax dollars shall be spent on the bridge and the county has no liability related to any demolition or salvage costs. The conditions include no timetable for action.
Commissioners said taking title to the bridge would mean Posey County would have to pay $96,000 toward a $480,000 inspection of the span, and they will not commit to any of that cost.
Andrew Wilson, a New Harmony Town Council member, has urged the commissioners to take title of the bridge so a decision to either rehabilitate it or raze it can move forward.
The Indiana Department of Transportation has given Posey County a three-year commitment to fund demolition, but only if Posey County takes title and pays for any preliminary work that must be done.
Wilson noted the commissioners' vote Tuesday was not an outright refusal to take title to the bridge, but "they have not provided us any direction."
The bridge was completed in 1930 and for decades the White County Bridge Commission operated it as a private toll bridge. It was closed in May 2012 after inspections found extensive deterioration, with repairs projected to cost anywhere between $2 million and $8 million.
The nearest alternate bridges are on Interstate 64, about 10 miles to the north, and the Indiana 62 bridge, about 15 miles south.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com