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September 13, 2010

Big Four Bridge plans nearing completion, but funding still an obstacle

Pedestrian span planned but not yet paid for

JEFFERSONVILLE — First the good news: Jeffersonville’s proposed ramp to the Big Four Bridge appears much less expensive than initially anticipated.

Then the bad news: It will cost more than what’s been secured as far as funding — zero.

The bridge was built in 1895 and for decades served as an Ohio River crossing between Louisville and Jeffersonville for the Big Four Railroad. It was abandoned in 1969 an its approaches were sold for scrap metal.

Now, leaders in Indiana and Kentucky are working to convert the structure into a pedestrian crossing between the downtowns of Jeffersonville and Louisville.

Louisville’s ramp to the bridge is complete; Jeffersonville hired a consultant last year and plans for its side are being developed.

City leaders have said they favor an approach that goes over the floodwall and lands on Chestnut Street, between Mulberry Street and Pearl Street. As those construction documents are expected to be completed next month, Jeffersonville Planning Director Brian Fogle said costs are down considerably from the initial estimate of $12 million to $15 million. Now that more solid plans are being finalized, the estimate is between $6 million to $8 million, he said. Once those are complete, the project will be shovel ready, the city noted. However, the timetable for getting it built is unclear as funding remains a question.

Fogle said a couple of different sources are being sought.

“Obviously, we’re talking about federal funding,” he said, calling it a regional transportation effort and saying that money would likely come from outside the area.

Last year, the city sought a federal grant through the Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery program — or TIGER — grant. That was rejected in favor of other projects.

Mike Kimmel, deputy director of Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corp., said Louisville and Jeffersonville have jointly applied for funding through a second-round stimulus program, TIGER II. Less money is being doled out through TIGER II and it’s thus seen as more competitive than the first round.

Additionally, Waterfront Development Corp. and the city of Jeffersonville have sought funds from the proposed Ohio River Bridges Project — which is aimed at building two new bridges over the Ohio River. A pedestrian walkway is planned on the proposed new downtown bridge. Kimmel said removing that walkway and using the money for it to fund the Big Four Bridge would wind up saving $40 million.

Waterfront Development Corp. is the principal agency developing the project, in charge of  building Louisville’s ramp and also revamping the deck of the bridge. Louisvillians are closer to being able to use the bridge as the Kentucky General Assembly last June allocated $12 million for the decking effort.

“The ramp, for all practical purposes, is definitely done,” Kimmel said, “[The $12 million will] take us across the bridge.”

That money will be available in July, he said.

If Louisville gets the bridge finished before Jeffersonville gets its approach done, pedestrians from Louisville likely will be allowed to walk onto it but have to turn around once reaching the Jeffersonville side.

“If the bridge is done we’ll open it up,” Kimmel said.

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