It's a small bridge in a small town, but there's nothing small about the Nortonville citizens' efforts to repair an integral facet of their community.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin was joined by Nortonville citizens at a dedication for the reopening of the New Salem Bridge. The bridge, which was reopened May 1 after 17 months of closure, is the heartline of the Nortonville community, and its closure was met with frustration, desperation and a communitywide effort to get the necessary repairs.

During the bridge's closure, citizens had to take a detour through the winding back roads of Nortonville neighborhoods in order to get to their destinations. This detour caused problems ranging from employees worried about getting to work on time to emergency vehicles being delayed several minutes to crises.

See Bridge/Page A8

According to citizens, the detour also added more damage to the town's infrastructure.

"People had to go and cut through these back neighborhoods where the roads are only able to hold one car at a time," City Council Member Pamela Broadston said. "It's caused some road damage back there because you've got these two cars and one's got to get on the edge of the road, which causes a give to the sides over time."

The residents of these back roads were especially affected. Citizen Sandra Hunter cited mailboxes being torn down by oversized vehicles on narrow roads.

But to citizens' relief, the bridge was repaired with state-issued money in an initiative headed by Bevin and Secretary of the Transportation Cabinet Greg Thomas. Bevin allocated $500,000 in discretionary funds to repair the bridge; only $360,000 was used to make the necessary repairs.

The actual repairs of the New Salem Bridge was also done mostly by Nortonville citizens.

"Our work crew did more than half of this," Broadston said. "Normally we would contract this job out, but this was given in emergency funds, and we needed it done as soon as possible."

In his speech, Bevin thanked the local residents who were able to make the necessary repairs in just two months of construction.

"There are some great contractors that work in this state, but there are also incredible men and women in this community that have the ability to do this job themselves," Bevin said.

But the Nortonville community involvement in the bridge's repair started much earlier than March.

Citizen Sandra Hunter was an active member in the community's resolve to fix the New Salem Bridge. According to Hunter, citizens began rallying for help in the bridge's repair as early as June of last year.

"We had meetings. We sent emails. We called," Hunter said, listing their tireless efforts on her hand. "We even wrote a petition to get this to the right people."

That petition had more than 600 signatures in a town of only 1,200 people.

"The state government did this, but we were the ones pushing it," Hunter said.

Nortonville citizens called, and State Representative Melissa Gibbons Prunty answered.

After she was contacted by Nortonville citizens, Rep. Prunty visited Frankfurt to meet with Thomas, who said that he'd been unaware of the Nortonville community's plight until Prunty's visit, and the two -- along with Gov. Bevin and District 2 Chief District Engineer Deneatra Henderson -- made a plan to make the repairs as soon as possible.

According to Henderson, it was her staff that closed the bridge in December 2017 for safety reasons after a regulated inspection found that the bridge's infrastructure was weak. Henderson and local officials were already brainstorming ways to repair the bridge when Bevin approved the half-million dollars for the work.

"Plans to repair the bridge were already in the works," Prunty said. "But it was fantastic to see people gather together with a collective voice."

At the dedication, Nortonville citizens sported wide smiles for the return of an essential infrastructure in their community.

"We are so thankful it's open," Hunter said. "It's a blessing."

Hunter recalled the first time her husband drove over the bridge after its reopening.

"He pulled over his vehicle and got out, and he just started jumping up and down, shouting 'Yes, Yes, Yes,' " Hunter described. "At first he was scared the people in the cars behind him were thinking 'this man has lost his mind.' "

But as soon as Hunter's husband turned to look back, he was met with the sight of his fellow Nortonville citizens celebrating the exact same way.

After more than a year, a community's nightmare is over.

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