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Saving a piece of history

Proposal explores pedestrian use
of Milton-Madison Bridge

Freeman pushes use of
old bridge when new one is built

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

In 1872, a railroad bridge across the Ohio River connecting Newport, Ky., and Cincinnati was opened. The bridge was later renovated to accommodate automobile traffic. In 1904, the bridge was renamed the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Bridge, and it remained open to railroad traffic until 1987.

Madison-Milton Bridge

Photo by Emily Ward

The Milton-Madison
Bridge was built in
1929 and is considered “functionally
obsolete” by the
state of Kentucky.

It was closed to automobile traffic in Oct. 2001 after years of neglect and deterioration.
On April 17, 2001, the L&N Railroad Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In late 2001, the city of Newport and economic development group Southbank Partners used $4 million in state funds to restore the bridge to a pedestrian walkway.
Today, the Purple People Bridge, as it is fondly referred to because of its color, is the longest pedestrian bridge in the country that links two states. It is 2,670 foot long and has become a major attraction for thousands of people each year who visit the area for dining, shopping, night life, festivals and sporting events.
George Freeman, former operator of WIKI Radio, has envisioned the same concept for the Milton-Madison Bridge across the Ohio River. For more than a decade he has championed the idea that a similar pedestrian-bicycle adaptive reuse of the bridge would be a boon to the local communities.
He has also proposed a new bridge at a different location include an overlook that could be used as a tourist draw to the area.
Now that the three-year, $5 million environmental and design study is being conducted for a possible new bridge, he says it is time for local officials and the community at large to get behind the concept.
“We can make the bridge an economic opportunity instead of a liability,” he said. “They are doing it in so many other communities.”
Freeman has proposed the idea of turning the existing bridge into a historic tourism and economic opportunity to Milton-Madison Bridge project officials during monthly Project Advisory Group meetings and gave a speech about it during the Madison Bicentennial Celebration’s Chautauqua Tent.
“We’ve sent around petitions that hundreds of people have signed, and we already have organizations and individuals coming on board with the idea,” he said.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., the 2,376-foot span Walnut Street Bridge, built in 1890, was closed to vehicles in 1978. It sat in disuse and disrepair for almost a decade. It took $4.5 million to restore the structure, which is now the centerpiece of a massive urban renewal project. It has become one of the most popular recreation spots in the southern city, which spends about $2 million annually to maintain and secure the bridge.
Freeman believes a bridge renewal project like this for the local community could be funded through a combination of private and foundation donations and through a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities. The proposed overlook on the new bridge could also help with the funding, as well, Freeman believes.
Some of those entrepreneurial possibilities include naming rights, admission charges, and business opportunities for retailers, vendors and others on the bridge.
The City of San Antonio applied for and received a $2.89 million Transportation Enhance-ment through the Texas Department of Transportation to rehabilitate and turn a historic bridge in that community into a bicycle and pedestrian facility. The Hays St. Bridge was permanently barricaded and closed to vehicular traffic in July 1982 because it was deemed structurally unsound.

Freeman

Freeman

“Of course, any plan would need to be very specific, but now is the time to get our ducks in a row,” he said. “This could be a wonderful legacy and asset for the community.”
“One entrepreneur, J.G. White, made the money to build the bridge in the first place, when the states couldn’t,” said Freeman. “You simply have to have the will, and the power structure needs to be in place.”
White’s engineering company incorporated the National Toll Bridge Co. particularly to finance three bridges, the Milton-Madison Bridge, and two Missouri River bridges at Hermann, and another at Courtney. The Milton-Madison Bridge is the only one of the trio that survives today.
Rich Murray, president of Cornerstone Society, a local affiliate of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, said while his organization is not officially involved yet, “We are supportive of any effort to retain the historic bridge.”
He said two major concerns the proposed plan would have are obviously funding issues and population concerns. “Other bridges that have been successfully re-used in this manner have larger population bases.”
His organization has taken a “wait and see” stance until the final location of the proposed new bridge is announced. “The replacement bridge on the existing piers is still one of the alternatives,” he said. “We have to see what the final decision on that is.”
Officials with the Milton-Madison Bridge project have said the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation will only fund one bridge across the river.
During a public online forum in June hosted by the Milton-Madison Bridge Project team members, Link Ludington of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Sites unit asked if there had been any estimate made of the amount of mitigation funds that could be made available to another entity that might be interested in taking over the existing bridge for redevelopment in the event is it abandoned by the KYTC. He also asked what sorts of parameters would there be for evaluating the eligibility of the entity and the viability of such a project.
“The existing location has not been ruled out at this sate, therefore we have not considered what may happen with the existing bridge if we construct at a new location,” said team members.
“I have high hopes that more people will get involved as we move along,” said Freeman.

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