By BRADEN LAMMERS
LOUISVILLE — It’s been more than 45 years since a train crossed the span over the Ohio River headed to Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland or St. Louis.
The big four cities that were the main destination for the trains have not received a rail car via the route for decades, and nothing has crossed the span since the tracks were removed from the end of the bridge in 1969 and sold for scrap.
For several more decades, plans had been floated around to turn the former railroad bridge, originally constructed in 1895, into something useful again.
But after an opening and public dedication Thursday, the public can again access the Big Four Bridge over the Ohio River.
“Welcome to what is probably the most anticipated piece of Waterfront Park,” said Waterfront Development Corp. President David Karem. “From the day we started this project, people have been saying, ‘When can I get up on the Big Four bridge.’”
From the turnout that gathered at the foot of the ramp on Louisville’s side of the bridge, Karem was right. Several hundred people turned out to walk, run and bike across the span Thursday morning. However, they still are unable to cross completely over the bridge into Jeffersonville, as the Indiana city’s ramp has not been finished.
“Hopefully in about four months, we’ll be able to fully complete this,” said Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore while addressing the crowd gathered to cross the bridge. He said the ramp is still on track to open in mid-June.
“This will be huge,” Moore said about residents having full access to the bridge and ramps. “The governors of both Indiana and Kentucky saw the economic development that would come from doing this. Everything will grow and expand from this.”
Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz said the contractor for the Indiana’s ramp, Gohmann Asphalt, is getting a timelime together to pour the concrete on the Indiana side.
Until both ramps are completed, people will have to be content with strolling up the ramp and across the 2,500-foot-long, 57-foot-high bridge deck for the views and exercise.
There was no shortage of folks wanting to get that sneak peek Thursday.
Summer and Broderick Wilson said they have been waiting to see the bridge open for a while. They came to the grand opening to check out the views and added that they are excited about crossing the bridge once it is fully compete.
Broderick Wilson, who works in downtown Louisville, said he likes to take his lunch to Waterfront Park to relax.
“I might make it up here on my lunch breaks,” he said.
St. Matthews residents Kerk Fisher and Freddie Hoskins also have watched the transition of the railroad bridge into a pedestrian pathway and wanted to check out the newly opened span.
“Oh, I just think it’s so cool,” Hoskins said.
“We think this is an exciting project,” Kerk Fisher added.
He said the couple is looking forward to the ramp in Jeffersonville to be completed so they can walk to a restaurant they frequent in Jeffersonville.
What several hundred people saw once they climbed the winding ramp to the top of the old railroad bridge was a poured concrete deck that runs the length of the six-truss bridge. Down the center of the deck, two lines mark where the railroad tracks formerly laid and overhead pendant lights — reminiscent of an old train depot — will help mark the center of the pedestrian bridge at night. Several light sconces were also attached to the side of the bridge that will help illuminate the deck at night.
Metal railings run the length of the bridge deck and there are numerous benches where pedestrians and bicyclists can stop to rest and enjoy the views of either riverfront.
The bridge will be open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year except for Thunder Over Louisville, for weather related events or if major repairs are needed.