NEW ALBANY — In the coming years, the Sherman Minton Bridge will get a facelift in the form of a major renewal project.
The rehabilitation will cost anywhere from $90 million to $105 million, with an expected start date in early 2021. How the timeline of the project will look is still up the air, as Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) officials are still in the process of deciding whether to move forward with a full closure or a partial closure.
While the looming prospect of impeding traffic flow on the major artery in any capacity is cause for concern to some residents and business owners, others are looking at the possibilities in a more creative light. This week, a Facebook page called "Light the Sherman" was launched, attracting over 200 likes in the few days it's been active.
The move appears to have been inspired by the Sherman Minton's sister bridge, the Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, Tenn. While that bridge shares a similar design, there is one obvious difference — it has decorative lighting, similar to that found on the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville.
The idea has gotten quite a bit of attention on social media, with the page organizers calling on people to convince local members of Congress to allocate money for the installation.
"I don't understand why you wouldn't want to do it," said Andrew Collins, owner of the riverside Boomtown Kitchen. "Looking at the Big Four Bridge and what happens there, people come just to see those lights. It would bring a flair to downtown that's not there."
According to Andrea Brady, spokesperson for the Sherman Minton Renewal Project, the only lighting called for in the rehabilitation plan is street lighting for the roadway and navigational lighting for the shipping channel, adding that there are no provisions for decorative lighting.
Still, New Albany City Council president Scott Blair said he hopes INDOT can incorporate that into a plan somewhere along the line. The Sherman Minton, Blair said, is something unique to New Albany, often serving as a symbol for the city. Enhancing it will benefit the city as a whole, he added.
“First of all, it enhances the view of people using the greenway and also people going out for entertainment in downtown," Blair said. "I think it’s another attraction that enhances downtown. People like it over in Jeffersonville, so they’d like it here too. It’d make the city more vibrant."
Collins noted that with the rise of the amphitheater and ongoing projects around it, such as the skatepark, it's the perfect time to add lights to New Albany's riverfront view.
"Think about the tourism it'd bring," he said. "Think about somebody travelling through this area around dusk. It's about time for dinner, and they come across this bridge that's all lit up. They might think this is a cool town, so they might stop here. We'd get some of those visitors."
Studies have shown that such aesthetic ventures do often translate into more visitors and money spent by them in the local economy. Russell Goodwin of SoIN Tourism said the key factor is collaboration and communication between project officials and local stakeholders, such as residents and business owners.
"When [projects like this] are collaborative and representative of the community, we have seen cases where it improves and increases tourism traffic," he said. "If you have a landmark that is attractive and improves aesthetics, such as public art, folks visit more and spend more money in those areas. When you have that community buy-in like the support you're seeing in New albany to enhance those amenities, it has a positive economic outcome.”
Some officials have been more tepid in their response to the idea. Floyd County Commissioners' president Billy Stewart said while the lighting could be a positive addition to the community, he would first want to ensure that it wouldn't have a major effect on funding or cause the bridge to be closed any longer than it already will be.
“If it doesn’t cause the bridge to close longer and it’s not going to affect funding, then I’m not against it," Stewart said. "If it causes the bridge to stay down longer and takes resources away, then no."
The only thing that Collins said would change his mind is an "astronomical" price tag, or an extremely drawn out timeline. If the duration of the project were to be affected only slightly, he said he would be willing to accept that for the benefits the lighting would add in the long run.
"If they said we're going to paint it with purple stripes or something, I'd be a little hesitant," Collins said. "But if you're lighting it, then absolutely. The end result is something that gives people a reason to come here."