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June 5, 2014

It’s all about the K&I in New Albany: Officials say opening bridge is a top priority

Not much optimism exists that the span will be open to public anytime soon

NEW ALBANY — Louisville and New Albany officials need to continue to rally support for opening the K&I Bridge to pedestrians so that the issue remains on the front burner of public interest, Ohio River Greenway Project Director Shaunna Graf said this week.

But while public officials for both communities have expressed support for allowing pedestrians on the bridge — which is owned by Norfolk Southern and only used for trains — there’s not much optimism that the span will be open to the public anytime soon.

Indiana State Sen. Ron Grooms is expected to back a measure in the General Assembly that would amend state code regarding immunity for property owners who allow land to be used for recreational purposes.

The amendment would allow Indiana to match Kentucky’s laws and “provide clearer protection for the railroad,” said Pat Leist-Stumler, treasurer of the Ohio River Greenway Commission.

Leist-Stumler and Graf presented the New Albany City Council with an update on the Greenway Monday.

With the next span of the path, which will stretch from East 9th Street to East 18th Street, nearing a construction date, Graf said the piece of the puzzle that’s missing is the K&I Bridge.

Not only would opening the span to pedestrians boost the Ohio River Greenway, but it would allow the completion of the 13-mile Kentuckiana River Trail, she continued.

The K&I Bridge connects to the Louisville neighborhood of Portland. The K&I Bridge is not included in the Congressional boundaries of the Ohio River Greenway.

But with the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge open and busy in Jeffersonville, New Albany will simply fail to garner all the benefits of the Greenway without the K&I, Councilman Dan Coffey said.

The council approved a resolution last year supporting the opening of the K&I Bridge, and Louisville has taken similar nonbinding steps.

But without local or state authority to order Norfolk Southern to open the bridge, Coffey said it could take a decade to put enough public pressure on the railroad company to allow pedestrians on the K&I.

“They’re not going to say yes unless they’re forced to,” he said.

Coffey added having the K&I open within five years would be expedient, but he’s not confident that will happen.

New Albany must be ready to aid in the process, but Louisville ultimately will have more sway when it comes to applying public pressure, Councilman John Gonder said.

“They are the big dog in this fight,” he said.

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