Friday, April 06, 2001

Neighbors of bridge work considering filing lawsuit

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Upset by what they describe as the insensitivity of those responsible for building a new Shortway Bridge, residents of Covington's Eastside neighborhood will meet tonight to discuss a possible class-action lawsuit against the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the project contractor.

        People who live near the bridge say they are concerned about cracks in their homes' walls and foundations — some as long as a foot or more — doors thrown out of alignment, noise, and the temporary loss of access to their streets and driveways.

        Mostly, though, they say they are upset by what they describe as the insensitivity of the parties connected with the project.

[photo] The front door of Maggie Powell's home on Dicky Beal Drive in Covington opens to the construction site of the new bridge between Covington and Newport that will replace the Shortway Bridge.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        “To me, the basic issue here is the total insensitivity toward the neighborhood,” said the Rev. Richard Fowler of the Ninth Street Baptist Church. “No one's talked to the residents about the danger, the damage, the inconvenience they're going to be faced with. No one has talked to them and said, "This is the process you follow in case of damage.'”

        The bridge, spanning the Licking River, connects Covington and Newport.

        Ed Johnson, who lives at the corner of Bush and Prospect streets, says he's filled at least a dozen large cracks within his home and on an outer wall within the past three months.

        On Thursday, he pointed out loose paneling in his living room and dining room, a gas pipe in his basement that had to be propped up after it slipped a couple of inches, and a molded shower that recently cracked while he was in it.

        Mr. Johnson, who's on disability, says his wife has been urging him to lay new flooring in the kitchen, but he's put off any improvements until the bridge construction is finished.

   Anyone with complaints or potential damage claims arising from the Shortway Bridge project can call the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's district office in Fort Mitchell at (859) 341-2700 during regular office hours.
        “It's pitiful,” he said. “You try to make something look decent. Then they come in and mess it up.”

        On Monday, the century-old Shortway Bridge was closed. It will be demolished in the fall, after the opening of the new four-lane bridge that crews began building last year.

        Greg Kreutzjans, the state highway agency's district construction engineer, said he took a couple of calls Monday complaining about possible damage from the project the first he said his office had received.

        Tim Ward of C.J. Mahan is the project manager for the Shortway Bridge project. He said the contractor and the state have been sensitive to residents' needs, including monitoring the vibrations when they were driving pilings last fall.

        Mr. Ward said that if utility service is inadvertently cut off because of the construction, “repairs are made as quickly as possible.”

        He said residents who have complaints about the project should first talk to “anyone they see in a hard hat” or the highway department's roving on-site inspector. If they don't get satisfaction from that, they can visit the contractor's job trailer at 1050 Lowell St. in Newport.

        But because the Shortway Bridge is closed, Covington residents would need to travel eight to 10 blocks north to the Fourth Street Bridge to reach the job trailer.

        The Rev. Fowler said many residents were upset Monday when Dicky Beal Drive and parts of 12th Street and Wheeler Street were blocked off without notice.

        “On Monday, I was lying here and then all of a sudden, I heard, "Boom, boom, boom,'” said Maggie Powell, who lives on Dicky Beal Drive. “Someone came to the door and told us they were tearing up our street, and we had to move our cars over to Bush Street.”

        The Rev. Fowler said owners of about 19 homes on Dicky Beal Drive, Bush Street, 12th Street and Wheeler Street have told him their properties were damaged by the bridge construction.

        Through a letter sent this week, he invited residents in the affected area to attend tonight's meeting to discuss their concerns and determine interest in filing a possible class-action lawsuit against the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and/or the project contractor, C.J. Mahan of Grove City, Ohio.

        The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Ninth Street Baptist Church, 231 E. Ninth St.

        Residents first met with state highway officials to discuss the project in January. However, at that meeting, the Rev. Fowler said state highway officials discussed issues such as traffic patterns and where roadways or ramps would be put, not how the actual construction would affect residents, or the process to follow in case of damage.

        Charles Meyers, the chief district engineer for the state Transportation Cabinet's Fort Mitchell office, said residents were told at the January meeting that they could call the district highway office if they had any complaints.

        Mr. Ward, the project manager, said property owners who think they have a damage claim should document it through dated photos and a detailed description of the problem.

        “If anyone's having problems contacting us on-site, they should contact the state,” Mr. Ward said.

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