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Now is the time to give our
new Ohio River Bridge a real name

Is it Milton-Madison or
Madison-Milton? Answer: It’s neither

 

 
(March 2011)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

In recent months, it has become apparent that many people in the community are confused, and even frustrated, over the name (or lack thereof) of our bridge that spans the Ohio River between Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind. Until the recent bridge project began, RoundAbout has always referred to the structure as the “Ohio River Bridge.” Not only is it logical, but that is what I was always told it was actually called.
But in reality, there is no official name on record that I have been able to substantiate. J.G. White Engineering Co. built the bridge but the only plate mounted on the bridge itself is one identifying the company that made the steel work: “The Mt. Vernon Bridge Company, Mt. Vernon, Ohio, 1929.” This small plate is attached to one of the upright beams near the Indiana side of the bridge on the downstream side as you approach the main platform.
With all the press being generated over the past two years on replacing the 80-year-old bridge, area residents have grown weary of the confusing nomenclature being published in local newspapers. The Madison Courier insists on calling it the Madison-Milton Bridge, when in fact the bridge is owned and maintained by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which dubs it the Milton-Madison Bridge. All of the press releases and information generated by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet over the past two years on the subject refer to the structure as the Milton-Madison Bridge.

Name That Bridge

In recent months I have received emails and comments from area readers about the true name of our bridge. For instance, Linda Gordon of Milton recently wrote: “Does the Kentucky Transportation Department have an official name for our bridge? If the Madison Courier writes an article, it is referred to as the Madison-Milton bridge. If a Kentucky paper writes the article, it is referred to as the Milton-Madison Bridge. Which is correct?” Other Trimble Countians often urge me to “Keep ‘em straight on the name of that bridge.”
Perhaps recognizing this bridge naming dilemma early on, consultants handling the media coverage of the Bridge Replacement Project created website addresses in both names, directing Internet surfers to the same website, which incidentally is called www.Milton-MadisonBridge.com. This effort, they hoped, would resolve the problem and get people to the site, regardless of their North-South leanings.
After some extensive digging into the records, viewing old clippings of the bridge dedication in 1929, and even calling the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to inquire as to whether there ever was an official name for the bridge, I have learned that our beloved bridge has no official name. Until recently, it has always been referred to as the Ohio River Bridge, or the Hwy. 421 Bridge, by Kentucky transportation officials. The Milton-Madison Bridge seems a logical moniker, but in fact it has never been voted on in the Kentucky Legislature as its official name.
John Carr, the lead consultant on the Bridge Replacement Project, confirmed that any official naming of the bridge would have to be voted on and approved by the Kentucky Legislature.

Bridge Plaque

My inquiry to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet about the official name apparently sparked a jovial debate among officials there. One official suggested the name M&M Bridge, thereby avoiding the contentious issue of which town should get top billing: Milton-Madison or Madison-Milton. Perhaps we could paint the sections of the new bridge in M&M colors – red, yellow, orange, green, brown, blue - and get the Mars Candy Co. to pay for it!
It seems only natural to me that now is the time to name our bridge, considering the two-year Bridge Replacement Project that began in earnest in January. Why not hold a bridge naming contest and let the people decide? Perhaps our bridge could be named for a famous person, as is the case with many bridges throughout the country? Or maybe the bridge naming contest would result in the obvious: The Ohio River Bridge.
In Louisville, the major bridges spanning the Ohio River are named after former President John F. Kennedy and the late Indiana Sen. Sherman Minton. Bridges throughout the country are named after presidents or politicians or other famous people. Many take on the logical names of the rivers they cross or the cities they serve: i.e. the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mackinac Bridge.
Although it would be fun to hold a bridge-naming contest during the 21 months that our new bridge is being built, I discovered some interesting experiences that occurred in communities during their attempt to name a bridge.
In 1931, New York City wrestled with naming its new bridge over the Hudson River, according to a New York Times article of the day. Most people simply referred to the structure as the Hudson River Bridge. But politicians decided to “let the people decide” and promptly placed ballot boxes on both sides of the river – in New York and New Jersey– and for several months allow people to submit names. Then out of nowhere, as the new bridge neared completion, the New York Port Authority announced the name as the George Washington Memorial Bridge. The Hudson River Bridge emerged as the public’s favorite, and despite the presidential name, people continued to refer to it as just that: The Hudson River Bridge, since that’s what they’d always called it anyway.
That is not the only bridge naming contest fiasco I discovered in my (albeit limited) research. The Megyeri Bridge, previously known as the Northern M0 Danube bridge, is a cable-stayed bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, respectively the west and east sides of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. It is an important section of the M0 ringroad around Budapest.
The bridge cost $300 million to build and was officially opened on Sept. 30, 2008, but had no official name. The National Transport Authority of Hungary initially only issued temporary permits because of disagreement among suburban cities surrounding the bridge. A naming poll to determine the new name of the recently built bridge caused controversy and received media attention when American TV comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart won.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Transport of Hungary organized a public vote online to solicit possible names for the new bridge. The three names with the most votes, as well as suggestions from local governments, cartographers, linguists and other experts, were to be reviewed by a government committee before a final name for the bridge was chosen. Stephen Colbert won with 93,163 votes, and Jon Stewart and Zrínyi close behind with 85,171 and 83,966 votes, respectively.
On Aug. 1, 2006, Reuters reported that the top candidate according to the online poll was the “Chuck Norris Bridge,” named for American action star Chuck Norris. Norris reached the height of his popularity around this time. On Aug. 11, 2006, American satirist Colbert discussed the story on his comedy program “The Colbert Report,” instructing his viewers to visit the polling website and vote for him instead of Norris. The next day the number of votes for him had grown 230 times, and he now asked his viewers to follow a link from his own “Colbert Nation” website. Colbert’s site also indirectly offered techniques for “stuffing the ballot box,” as users of their forums created several automated scripts to cast multiple votes for Colbert. On Aug. 15, 2006, he repeated his call to be voted top of the Hungarian poll, and by Aug. 22, the “Stephen Colbert Bridge” was in first with 17 million votes, about 14 million votes ahead of the second-placed Zrínyi Bridge, named after the Croatian-Hungarian national hero, Miklós Zrínyi, and about 7 million more than the entire population of Hungary. The same day, the site announced a new round of voting, which would require registration to participate, and Colbert asked his viewers to “call off the dogs,” requesting on his website that fans stop using scripts to vote. Despite this, the “Stephen Colbert Bridge” remained in the top position on the website in the second round.
On Sept. 14, 2006, András Simonyi, the ambassador of Hungary to the United States, announced on “The Colbert Report” that Colbert had won the vote. Unfortunately for Colbert, Ambassador Simonyi declared that under Hungarian law, Colbert would have to be fluent in Hungarian, and would have to be deceased in order to have the bridge named for him. However, after saying the rules could most likely be bent, he invited Colbert to visit Hungary and view the construction in person and gave him a Hungarian passport and $50 in Hungarian money. Colbert promptly tried to bribe him with said money.
On Sept. 28, 2006, it was announced that the bridge would be named “Megyeri Bridge,” even though that name did not make it to the second round.
So a public vote on our beloved new bridge over the Ohio River could be risky in that a contest would open itself to just about anything. “Letting the people decide” is not always a good idea but it would generate lots of fun and interest in our two-year construction project taking place down at the river. For instance, the new structure could be named after chocolate candy or popular TV comedians or (yawn) the “Ohio River Bridge” or, worse, the “Hwy. 421 Bridge.” Or continue to have no real name at all!
I can see the signs now as you approach the ramp of the new bridge: “Welcome to Larry the Cable Guy Bridge. Get ‘her done!”
C’mon people, where’s the creativity? We are building a new bridge using one of the most innovative bridge-sliding methods ever conceived in the engineering community! It’s the fastest bridge ever built over the Ohio River, yada, yada yada. And we call it... the Ohio River Bridge?!
I would like to think that over the next 21 months, we can get our heads together and come up with a new name to match the engineering feat that is taking place in our community. When the day comes that we dedicate the structure that so many people in the region have for so long lamented that they would never live to see, let’s celebrate the new bridge with gusto and class and, ahem, a new name on which we can all agree.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.

 

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