London man who championed project is co-recipient


FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 23, 2013) – A decision to restore rather than replace a landmark bridge in Rockcastle County has earned the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a Kentucky resident a prestigious preservation award.

The cabinet (KYTC) and London resident Jim Hayes today were joint recipients of a 2013 Ida Lee Willis Project Preservation Award for their roles in the Rockcastle River Bridge rehabilitation. The award recognizes outstanding examples of restoration or rehabilitation of historic buildings, or other types of projects that have had a positive impact on Kentucky’s built environment.

The bridge, which connects Laurel and Rockcastle counties, is a 1921-era Pennsylvania Petit Steel Truss structure. It was designated for replacement by KYTC in 2006, but Hayes, a preservation advocate and self-described history buff, championed the bridge’s restoration instead.

In 2010, the KYTC Division of Environmental Analysis teamed with the University of Kentucky Transportation Center to study truss bridges remaining in Kentucky with an aim of preserving the historic structures.  While serving as architectural features of the landscape, truss bridges illustrate how engineering and technology have changed over time and stand as examples of Kentucky’s bridge history.


In 2008, the KYTC system had 157 truss bridges. Today there are as few as 108, many of which are considered threatened. The Rockcastle River Bridge was one of only three of its type remaining in the Commonwealth.


“Maintaining our history while also creating and maintaining a safe, efficient transportation system for Kentuckians often requires a fine sense of balance,” Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said. “That was masterfully done with this project. The recognition of the Ida Lee Willis Foundation is proof that those involved with this project knew what they were doing.”


Truss bridges became popular in Kentucky in the mid-1800s as a way to span large bodies of water at relatively low cost. Service life and load-bearing capacity of truss bridges far exceeded that of covered wooden bridges. The railroad boom of the 19th century saw railroad companies constructing truss bridges to accommodate the loads of rail cars. By the early 20th century, bridges were built by local governments and private bridge companies, but truss types continued to be popular.

The 205-foot-long Pennsylvania Petit Steel Truss bridge connecting Laurel and Rockcastle counties serves as a natural introduction to the KY 89 Scenic Byway. But to be recommended for rehabilitation it first had to meet criteria outlined in the 2010 KYTC-UK study. The bridge had to be able to meet the functional needs of the routes it served and be rehabilitated “to maintain or upgrade its structural capacity to the present and anticipated future capacity needed for route traffic.” The cost of rehabilitation also fit within the state’s needs.


The initial estimate for replacing the bridge was more than $1.8 million. The cost to rehabilitate the bridge was around $465,000 – a saving of nearly 75 percent. During the rehabilitation, which was completed in 2011, the structure was cleaned of old paint, failed steel was replaced, and the entire structure was painted. The weight limit was also restored to 15 tons from the previous deterioration-mandated 3 tons.


The re-evaluation of the bridge saved the state more than $1.3 million. But maybe more importantly, it preserved a portion of the area’s history.


About the award

Presented each May in observance of National Historic Preservation Month, the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Preservation Awards recognize those who have demonstrated an understanding of and appreciation for the value of preserving and reusing Kentucky’s historic and prehistoric resources, whether through the rehabilitation of an important structure or community resource or through a lifetime commitment to encouraging and promoting historic preservation.  The awards are named for the late First Lady Ida Lee Willis. The ceremony today was held at the Executive Mansion in Frankfort.

Widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis, Ida Lee Willis was directly responsible for saving the Vest-Lindsey House in Frankfort, home of a long-time early Kentucky Congressman, and this achievement resulted in her being appointed Kentucky’s first state historic preservation officer in 1966.  Under her direction, the Kentucky Heritage Commission (today the Kentucky Heritage Council) began to survey the state, nominate sites to the National Register of Historic Places, award grants and promote preservation statewide.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor its namesake. Today her daughter, Sally Willis Meigs, and others serving on the foundation board continue to sponsor the annual awards to honor Willis’ legacy and her dedication to preserving historic and archaeological resources throughout the Commonwealth.





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