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May 20, 2014

The connection is made: Big Four Bridge opens, uniting Jeffersonville, Louisville

After more than a year of delays, pedestrian, bicycling bridge welcomes visitors

JEFFERSONVILLE — Ann Lewis said she’s been waiting for a pedestrian and cyclist bridge connecting Jeffersonville to Louisville for a decade.

“It’s going to bring the two cities together,” said Lewis, Jeffersonville.

The Spring Street resident — and many others — got their wish Tuesday afternoon when the Indiana ramp to the Big Four Bridge opened after more than a year of delays.

The Indiana Department of Transportation, which managed the project during its construction, completed installation of lighted handrails on the ramp last week and handed over ownership to the city Monday. The city will maintain the ramp, which only closes once a year, during Thunder Over Louisville.

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said the bridge will help join two cities that historically have been at odds.

“Growing up here in Jeff, I’ve always seen a resistance of Hoosiers to move to Kentucky and I have seen the same with people from Kentucky with an unwillingness to move to Indiana,” Moore said. “I would have to say over the past decade, I have seen those sentiments decrease.

“I think this project is very significant in promoting that [unity] even more.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said that the bridge isn’t just important to those in nearby communities.

“It’s been incredible to see people from all over the world that have come to walk this bridge,” Fischer said. “ ... It’s such a magnificent structure that people all over the world say, ‘When I come to Louisville, I’ve got to do that.’ And people come to Louisville to do this.”

The former railroad bridge — which closed to trains in 1969 — opened on the Louisville side in February 2013 when Louisville’s ramp and the bridge deck was completed.

Various changes to the Jeffersonville ramp, including the replacement of sagging steel girders and new lights that complied with historic district wishes, delayed the opening in Jeffersonville for 13 months.

“Mayor Moore has been a major champion to get this open here,” Fischer said.

Because INDOT owned the project, Moore pleaded with officials to find a way to open the ramp as soon as possible. The $8.5 million project — for the Indiana portion — was paid for by with 80 percent federal funding through INDOT. The city put up 20 percent of funds.

“I have had some differences in opinion with INDOT, but without INDOT’s participation, this project would have not been complete,” Moore said.

Will Wingfield, spokesman for INDOT, said he is excited to hear that the ramp is open.

“We believe that this is going to be tremendous asset to the community in terms of the tourism, recreation and more importantly, transportation across the river for the area,” Wingfield said.

A crowd of Hoosiers and Kentuckians on both sides of the bridge awaited its Tuesday opening.

Louisville resident John Paul, who calls himself an “ultra distance cyclist,” frequently bikes all over Southern Indiana — Jeffersonville, Floyds Knobs, Utica, New Albany and even Harrison County.

“It’s a safer alternative to the Second Street [or Clark Memorial] bridge,” Paul said of the Big Four Bridge. “I come over here to get away from the congestion [in Louisville.]”

Jeffersonville resident Colleen McConahay has anticipated the opening the two years she’s lived in the city.

“I live very close, so I’m excited to bike and run across the bridge to Waterfront Park,” said McConahay, who says she will run on the bridge once or twice a week.

Amanda Forsting, a Louisville resident, was with her husband, son and neighbor Tuesday to bike across the bridge.

“When the weather’s good, [my family] will be down here exploring Jeffersonville,” Forsting said. “It’s just great for kids to be able to feel like there are good destinations across the bridge. This is a great thing for families.”

Moore said he expects to see even more unity between Indiana and Kentucky in the future.

“We are one market — two cities in two different states, but we share common interests and common goals,” he said. “I think it sounds cliché, but this bridge is bridging the gap and it’s making it easier to cross over.”

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Jamie Collins, Scottsburg, works on lesson plans in her classroom at Scribner Middle School on Monday afternoon. Collins was the recipient of a $100 gift card to the Your Educational Supply Store from the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Education Foundation. All first-time teachers in the school system received a gift card to help them set up their classrooms.

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