Landlocked Bridge Case Moves to Court

By: Kim Eiten Email
By: Kim Eiten Email

The battle over a broken bridge moved to the courtroom Thursday.

No one wants to claim ownership of the dilapidated structure that closed and left a family landlocked.

"What we're asking the court to do is to order that the county recognize that this road is a public road and the county has a duty to maintain not only the road but the bridge," Attorney Joe Casson said Thursday in court.

"Ultimately, I think the record will be clear that this is not a county obligation because it's not the county's road," Attorney Daniel Werner said.

It's a dispute that's been ongoing for months, and one family is looking for answers.

Each step across the Farmsteads Avenue Bridge is one the Diller family hopes to never have to take again.

But, that's not an option if they ever want to leave home.

"I'm a taxpayer and I have a landlocked home," Mike Diller said.

The bridge, the only route to their house, is condemned. Now, the only way across is on foot.

"Jefferson County has abandoned us back here like I'm not even a taxpayer," Diller said.

Every time they cross is a threat to their safety. A warning issued by an attorney said they must cross at their own risk.

And, they do cross several times a day.

While the treacherous trips rack up, so do Mike Diller's frustrations.

"I'm not fighting for a bridge. I'm fighting for my family's safety in a house where they can't get emergency services."

He wants the bridge fixed and made usable for his family to drive over like they have for sixteen years.

It seems simple enough, but it's not.

With 600,000 bridges in operation every day in the U.S., none is like the Farmsteads Avenue Bridge.

It's a bridge, with no owner.

Doug Hecox from the Federal Highway Administration, FHWA, said he's never seen a case like it.

Neither has Jefferson County Highway Superintendent William Hansel.

"Everything I see and have points that it's not a county structure," Hansel said.

The FHWA's response?

It's not theirs either.

A memo from FHWA sent earlier this month read, "There is a lack of clarity as to who owns the bridge."

While the county and FHWA try to get to the bottom of just that, there's no shortage of questions.

One of those questions: Did the county inherit the bridge by making repairs on it?

"I think the maintenance that was done to it by the county was basically by accident," Hansel said.

He said FHWA closed it, possible making the bridge federally owned.

"Right now, I consider it to be the [Federal Highway Administration's] because they're the ones who ordered it closed," Hansel said.

Ownership aside, the Diller's just want both groups to dig faster.

"This bridge is going to kill somebody," Diller said.

"It's in bad shape," Hansel said. "I will agree to that."

In the meantime, the Diller's wait.

"Do I care who fixes the bridge? Not really," Diller said. "It doesn't make any difference at this point. We're well beyond that. Does the bridge still need to be fixed? Absolutely."

And they're hoping that happens soon, to save them some steps.


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