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January 25, 2014

BRIDGING THE FUTURE: Exploring the bridges project impact on UTICA

Back on the map: East-end bridge brings change to Utica's 776 residents

UTICA — The construction flotilla with cranes in the Ohio River says it all: Utica’s about to realize some big changes.

An interstate overpass — currently connecting nothing — awaits the arrival of a new path that’s taking shape near the heart of Utica, with a population of 776, according to 2010 census data.

Construction is underway on the nearly $800 million east-end crossing of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which will connect Utica to Prospect, Ky. — and bring with it a four-mile new-terrain highway with more traffic but also the potential for development.

Clarence Snelling, who has spent his 81 years in town and owner of the Bun Box Sandwich Shop and Snelling’s Lawnmower Repair, said the change is inevitable, but there’s still a chance to have some input on the impact on the town he loves.

“You can’t stand in the way of progress,” Snelling said. “The changes are coming for this little town and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. I just hope we can work together and make it a better place, especially with the elderly.”

From the turn of the 19th century, Utica has maintained its identity as a small river town on the banks of the Ohio River. As the East End bridge begins to take shape — the nearly $1 billion downtown crossing connecting Louisville to Jeffersonville will also be complete in 2016 —  its reputation as a safe crossing for the waterway is about to see a revival.

But as the promise of growth comes along, some longtime residents worry about losing the small town they’ve known and loved all their lives. Snelling, a former planning and zoning board member, urged caution when approaching expansion. Town officials already have reworked a zoning plan — the first time in more than three decades.

Even without an exit from the bridge directly into Utica, town officials and business leaders have put themselves on the ready for change. Balancing evolution and maintaining the town’s charming character are paramount for representatives and residents alike.

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Permanent lighting is being installed on the handrails of the Big Four Bridge.

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