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May 23, 2014

NASH: The start of something big

— This weekend is the unofficial start to summer and I think it’s about time. Many people spent this past winter just trying to stay warm. Now that the calendar says that the weather should be cooperating, it’s time to get outside and start enjoying it before it gets too hot. Lately the time between too cold and too hot have all but disappeared.

Just in time for the beginning of summer the Indiana Department of Transportation has finally handed over the ramp to the Big Four Bridge. Now that the city of Jeffersonville has control of the bridge ramp, pedestrians and cyclist may use it for leisure, exercise or to safely cross into Kentucky just trying to get to work.

Hundreds of people showed up on both sides of the fence Tuesday that has for months been a barrier to getting all the way across the bridge. Thousands of people have crossed it daily since it half opened more than 15 months ago and I imagine now that you can walk all the way from one state to the other more and more people will begin using it.

For years people have waited for a pedestrian bridge that connects Louisville to Southern Indiana. Now that it’s open I say maybe  we should have another. The economic development that has begun and has been planned since the bridge was conceived has been encouraging and maybe it is time that New Albany took advantage.

For years people have talked about the opportunity of converting the K & I Bridge for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. As far back as 2006 local leaders contacted the owners of the bridge, Norfolk Southern Railroad. The railroad contends they cannot allow pedestrian traffic adjacent to train operations for reasons of safety, security, operations and liability.  

If you walk under the K & I Bridge along Floyd Street you can look up and see that there is at least a gap of four feet from the former traffic portion of the bridge and the center portion that is used for railroad traffic. Several tons of steel remains between any pedestrians or cyclist and a passing train. Just a few blocks away near the entrance to the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater there is no gap and no protection between train and humans. Why is it such a concern at the K & I Bridge?

I believe that the K & I Bridge can be converted to a pedestrian and bicycle bridge without the danger that the Norfolk Southern Corp. fears.  I believe that with the opening and success of the Big Four conversion that this is the only logical progression. If the railroad continues to drag its feet and deny access then maybe Louisville and New Albany officials should look at condemning the bridge or take other legal actions for the good of the public.

Just a couple of blocks from the K & I Bridge you enter a finished portion of the Ohio River Greenway at the 18th Street cut in the floodwall. It continues west toward the Loop Island Wetlands and stops at Silver Creek at an abandoned railroad bridge. When the Greenway is complete it will connect through Clarksville and on to Jeffersonville. Now that the Big Four is complete it only makes sense to create a loop including the K & I Bridge in New Albany and connecting up with hundreds of miles of bike and pedestrian lanes as part of the Louisville Loop.

If the K & I Bridge is ever to be converted it will take a lot of people getting together and pushing for it. It may take people on a national level recognizing the need and helping to make it happen. With all of the talk about the ever expanding waist lines of many Americans an interstate project like this could go a long way to improve the health and well being of our local communities.

The month of May has been designated National Bike Month and this year we have something to celebrate. For a few years I was nearly full-time bicycle commuter, but over the last few years have gotten a little lazy about it. I have ridden my bike to work a few times this month and hope I can continue to do so. The difference in time between biking and driving to work is marginal and I feel better when I ride. I know it is not for everyone but if you plan it properly, just about anyone can do it.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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