Two bridges – one spanning the Barren River and one connecting to the internet superhighway – got significant boosts Friday from Warren Fiscal Court.
The magistrates approved a 24-month, $10 million agreement with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. to extend fiber optic cable and bring broadband internet service to the final underserved parts of the county through a partnership with North Central Telephone Cooperative.
They also approved the $293,523 bid of Lexington’s Intech Contracting to repair the historic Old Richardsville Road Bridge that has been out of commission for longer than three years.
The agreement with WRECC was hailed by many of the magistrates and Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, who said he has been working for more than a decade on extending broadband internet to all county residents.
“This is something that’s going to benefit the citizens of Warren County for 50 years, maybe 100 years,” Buchanon said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to receive true high-speed internet.”
Buchanon said WRECC and NCTC will reach about 14,000 homes that don’t currently have access to the type of high-speed internet that will be provided through the fiber optic cable that WRECC will be constructing.
Those 14,000 homes, when added to what the WRECC-NCTC partnership has already built in the Alvaton and Boyce areas and what WRECC and Spectrum Cable are doing now through the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will cover nearly the entire county.
“It’s a historic day for Warren County,” Sixth District Magistrate Ron Cummings said. “My biggest push has been to get this issue resolved. There will still be some people frustrated because it’s going to take two years to complete. But when these additional homes are served, probably less than 1% of the county will be without high-speed internet.”
Buchanon said the coronavirus pandemic revealed the need for broadband internet service and helped expedite increasing access because of such federal programs as the FCC’s RDOF.
“The FCC grant really got the two main providers involved,” Buchanon said. “It made it more competitive this time around. I’m not sure we would’ve had the opportunity to do this if COVID-19 hadn’t heightened the need.”
Buchanon said money for the project will most likely come out of the county’s reserve funds, saying: “We are going to be able to get this done for a fraction of what it would’ve cost a few years ago.”
As they have done for months in other parts of the county, WRECC will run the fiber optic cable and NCTC will provide the internet service, with speeds ranging from 100 megabits per second to one gigabit per second.
WRECC Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations Kim Phelps said this latest agreement is a perfect extension of the work the member-owned cooperative has been doing.
“We are excited to continue our momentum in Warren County,” Phelps said in a text message. “We appreciate Warren Fiscal Court’s efforts to bring this much-needed service to our members.”
Like the rollout of high-speed internet, repair of the Old Richardsville Road Bridge has been in the works for a while.
The bridge that dates to the late 19th century and is on the National Register of Historic Places was shut down by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in March 2018 because of structural concerns.
That historic nature and its unique “bowstring” design delayed getting repairs made on the bridge, which was condemned in the 1980s when it was maintained by the state.
The late David Garvin, founder of Camping World, bought the bridge from the state after that condemnation and had it restored.
Warren County Public Works Director Josh Moore was able to procure $312,000 in state funding to repair the bridge, so the work to be done by Intech will be covered entirely by the state.
Moore said Intech was a good pick for a contractor because the company has done work on the Old Richardsville Road bridge and the College Street pedestrian bridge in the past.
After the bridge was shut down by the KYTC, Moore considered upgrading it from its three-ton weight limit to eight tons, but he said the state only agreed to restore it to its original condition.
“Taking it to an eight-ton bridge would’ve almost doubled the cost,” Moore explained. “The state felt more comfortable with just repairing it.”
Moore said the repairs may include some design elements that prevent extra-large vehicles from driving on the bridge.
“It will keep the historical nature, and it will still have the wooden floor,” Moore said. “We’re very happy to move forward with the repairs.”
Moore said work on the bridge is scheduled to be completed by mid-November.
In other action Friday, the magistrates approved spending $6,000 for Vincent Lighting Systems to repair the fire-retardant curtain at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center.
They also approved spending $14,237 for Gunter Roofing to make roof and gutter repairs at Buchanon Park.