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Associated Press
Federal officials will soon discuss the future of the New Harmony Bridge that links Indiana and Illinois.

Officials to discuss fate of closed bridge

– Federal Highway Administration officials are making a trip to southwest Indiana to discuss the future of an 82-year-old Wabash River bridge between Indiana and Illinois that closed to traffic in May amid safety concerns.

Friday’s meeting in historic New Harmony is expected to include members of the White County Bridge Commission, the Indiana Department of Transportation and Posey County Commissioners. White County Bridge Commissioner Jim Clark said he isn’t sure what the meeting will focus on.

The privately owned toll bridge had provided a link between Posey County in Indiana and White County in Illinois but was closed after inspectors determined the span was structurally unsafe for traffic.

The Evansville Courier & Press reported Thursday that Indiana has offered to pay $10 million of the estimated $25 million it would cost to build a new bridge, but Illinois has said it isn’t interested in providing money.

Illinois State Rep. David Reis said he’s very disappointed with Illinois’ lack of interest in rehabilitating or replacing the bridge, which had provided farmers who raise crops on both sides of the river with access between southwest Indiana and southern Illinois.

“They have basically walked away from it,” Reis said.

Efforts to gain approval to grant oversize-load permits to farmers to cross the Wabash River on Interstate 64 south of Grayville, Ill., have also been rejected, he said.

“Their refusal to approve permits comes right in the middle of harvest,” Reis said. “If farmers in the area have to get their equipment across the river, they will now be forced to travel all the way to Mount Vernon, Indiana, and back around. It just makes no sense.”

Responding to reports of people walking out onto the structure, the bridge commission installed a chain-link fence across the Indiana entrance to the bridge earlier this month. A similar fence is expected to be installed soon at the Illinois approach.