LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - About 200 people turned out Wednesday to break ground on the resurfacing of the deck for the Big Four Bridge.
The former railroad bridge, which spans the Ohio River from Waterfront Park into downtown Jeffersonville, is being converted into a walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Rep. John Yarmuth, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan attended Wednesday's ceremony.
An access ramp from the Louisville shoreline is finished, but Jeffersonville has yet to begin construction of its access ramp.
Kentucky lawmakers approved $12 million for the Kentucky portion of the project, and Indiana has earmarked another $10 million for the project.
"Today marks a major step forward in a historic effort to improve our economy and improve our quality of life by improving mobility for the tens of thousands of people who, every day, cross the Ohio River between our communities," Gov. Beshear said. "The rebirth of the Big Four will help realize a vision for the Louisville and Southern Indiana region."
Kentucky and Indiana, along with the Jeffersonville, have committed $22 million to complete the project. The bulk of the funding – $12 million – was pledged by Kentucky for replacement of the bridge deck.
Mayor Fischer says the impact of the restored Big Four pathway will be dramatic.
"Not only will it be a priceless addition to our quality of life – an iconic destination for both residents and visitors – it will also create a vital link between Louisville and Southern Indiana while also providing much needed construction jobs for our citizens," Fischer said.
Mayor Galligan says the Big Four project is a testament to "hard work and cooperation" between Gov. Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Waterfront Development Corp., in Louisville, communities on both sides of the Ohio River and the transportation agencies of both states.
"This connection between our two communities will be an invaluable amenity for the whole region and will be a springboard for even more improvements in downtown Jeffersonville," Galligan said.
Rep. Yarmuth, who represents Kentucky's Third District, says completion of the Big Four Bridge "will continue the extraordinary revitalization of our waterfront and downtown neighborhoods."
Yarmuth added that the project is "creating construction jobs now and will ultimately add new and exciting transportation options for cyclists and pedestrians from both sides of the bridge.
The Big Four Bridge is crucial to the Ohio River Bridges project because it fills a need for a pedestrian and bike pathway. The pathway originally was to have been part of a new Interstate 65 bridge between downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville. Elimination of the pathway was part of the plan by Governors Beshear and Daniels and Mayor Fischer to trim $1.2 billion from the cost of the larger project.
Completed in 1895, the Big Four once carried trains of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louisville Railway Co. across the Ohio River. The Big Four was abandoned and its approaches removed more than 40 years ago.
Its new incarnation is a striking combination of old and new – the existing trestle attached to a spiraling pedestrian ramp on the Kentucky side, in Waterfront Park. A new Indiana approach will be built in Jeffersonville.
"At every presentation we have made about Waterfront Park over the last 25 years, the Big Four Bridge has been the feature that has raised the most excitement and anticipation," said David Karem, President of the Waterfront Development Corp. "We are particularly pleased with our continuing partnership with the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The State's support has been a big part of making this project happen."