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April 25, 2014

NASH: Our ‘bridge to nowhere’

— During the 2008 presidential election “the bridge to nowhere” got a lot of press. The Alaskan bridge that hundreds of millions of federal dollars were earmarked for became the poster child for pork barrel spending.

Fast forward a few years and the citizens of Southern Indiana and Louisville have been sitting around waiting for  the completion of the Big Four Bridge which has been a literal “Bridge to Nowhere.”     

Last week the Indiana Department of Transportation once again disappointed the citizens of Southern Indiana as they delayed the opening of the Big Four Bridge one more time.  Originally scheduled to open nearly a year ago, months after the Louisville side had been open, the delay was just another setback in the project.  

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore, whose frustration was beginning to get the best of him, threatened to open the bridge without the blessing of INDOT, but then was counter-threatened back. Mayor Moore announced that the governor would have to send the state police to force him to not open the bridge and INDOT announced they would cut off federal funding for the project if he tried.  

Having promised to have the bridge open by April 30, the mayor’s frustration was understandable. With a few of the Kentucky Derby Festival events focused on the Ohio River and Louisville’s Waterfront Park, it would have been nice timing for the pedestrians of Southern Indiana. Being able to see “The Great Steamboat Race” or walk to the “Chow Wagon” or “balloon glimmer” from Jeffersonville would be nice instead of having to fight the traffic in Louisville.

The setbacks to the opening of the bridge have been blamed on the lighting design that was changed from the original plans to appease the neighbors of the bridge landing on the Indiana side. The new lights, which are still being manufactured, will be installed in the handrails of the bridge. Delivery of some of the final pieces is still a few weeks away and then some other construction must be completed.

INDOT has cited pedestrian safety as their reason for not wanting to open the bridge while construction is ongoing. They believe the liability of having people on the bridge is too great and do not want to take that responsibility. If a citizen or construction worker was injured it would be devastating to the project.

Even without being able to completely walk across the converted railroad bridge between Kentucky and Indiana, thousands of people can be seen walking the Big Four on nice, sunny days. Since its opening last year I have walked or biked across the bridge several times. I have also taken out-of-town guest to the bridge including friends from St. Louis and family from Utah. Everyone that crosses the bridge walks all the way until they reach the barrier on the Indiana side and the disappointed reaction is nearly identical for everyone.

In a few weeks the only bridge that currently allows pedestrians to cross from Indiana to Kentucky will be closed as part of the Ohio River Bridges Project. The Clark Memorial Bridge is slated to have some updates to its approaches and will be closed for about six weeks.  This will leave the region without a pedestrian crossing of the Ohio River until the Big Four Bridge can be opened.

Most people don’t realize it but hundreds of people utilize the Clark Memorial Bridge to get to work on a daily basis. Whether walking or riding a bike you can see people on the span at all hours of the day whether for exercise or for their basic transportation needs. Without a way to cross the Ohio River many people will not be able to make it to their jobs for several weeks without being able to utilize the Big Four Bridge.

Troy Woodruff whose Twitter profile describes him as the Chief of Staff for the Indiana Department of Transportation, was in town earlier this week for yet another photo op and to announce that they didn’t have a date to open the bridge. He replied to a frustrated post of mine by saying “we” hate delays on Big Four Bridge as much as you do. He went on to say that they want to get it right the first time so that they can be out of the way.

The Big Four Bridge opened to pedestrian traffic in February of last year. Tens of thousands of people showed up on that first day to walk nearly all the way across the Ohio River on the incomplete bridge. At that time it was believed that the Indiana side would be opened in only a few short months. Set back after set back has made us wait and now, when the opening was actually scheduled, we are forced to wait once again.

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

  

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