A Big Ramp for the Big Four

Residents and business owners in Jeffersonville, IN are excited to see fencing and barricades appear around the Big 4
Bridge. As equipment and materials arrive, anticipation of the long awaited ramp to the bike/ped crossing is a welcoming sight for those eager for the potential advantages that will come with connecting community to community and state to state.
The Big 4 Bridge is a span connecting New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville, IN to downtown Louisville, KY across the Ohio

Big 4 Bridge in Jeffersonville. Photo:Wikimedia Commons

River. In 1887 the Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge Company was founded to construct the bridge which was conceived two years earlier. The construction began on October 10, 1888. The north end of the bridge is an eight panel Parker Truss. The name, Parker, refers to the structural design. A Parker Truss is composed of a series of right triangles at the sides with a polygonal top chord. This design is generally used for spans of 100 feet or more. The southern end of the bridge is a ten panel Parker Truss. The mid-sections of the bridge are sixteen panel Pennsylvania (Petit) Trusses, which is a Parker Truss with sub-ties. The Pennsylvania (Petit) construction design is used for heavier traffic such as railroad freight trains and is generally used for spans of 250 to 600 feet long. The Pennsylvania Truss is named for its extensive use by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The total length of the bridge is 2525 Ft. and it is 53 ft. high.

Many accidents occurred during its construction. Twelve workers drowned as a result of a malfunctioning caisson (a watertight, retaining structure used when building pier foundations), and another 4 workers were killed by a broken wooden beam while working on another pier. One of the most severe bridge disasters in the United States happened on December 15, 1893 when strong winds caused a crane to dislodge and damaged the truss, throwing 41 workers into the icy waters of the Ohio River, killing twenty-one workers that day. Seven years later, and near bankrupt from the numerous accidents, the Big 4 Bridge was completed in September 1895, and later that same year, the Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge company sold the bridge to Indianapolis-based Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, also known as the Big 4 Railroad.

Increasing transportation of freight which led to increased weight made it necessary to build a bigger bridge which opened on June 25, 1929. The Big 4 Railroad merged into the New York Central Railroad which merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1966 to become the Penn Central Railroad. The bridge fell into neglect, and in 1969 the approach spans were taken up and sold as scrap. The Big 4 Bridge became known as the “Bridge that Goes Nowhere”.

During the 1970’s and 80’s, the bridge became the site for a variety of uses. A local radio station illuminated the bridge as a Christmas promotion to raise funds for local families in need. In 1988 a proposal was made by Costa Rica to dismantle and re-locate the bridge to Costa Rica, which never came about. By 1999 plans to convert the old bridge to a bike/pedestrian rail trail to be part of the Louisville Waterfront Park began, and in 2006 the process was set into motion. The approach ramp on the Louisville side was completed in 2010. It is a spiral structure that leads to a viewing platform adjacent to the bridge 60 feet from the ground.
While plans to build the ramp on the north end of the bridge have been on-going, until last year funding for the project had not materialized.
In February, 2011 it was announced that Kentucky pledged $12 million to replace the decking on the bridge and connect it the ramp.
Indiana will receive $8 million in Federal assistance and the City of Jeffersonville will provide $2 million in matching dollars to pay for the construction of the ramp on the Indiana side. During the announcement Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, “the Big 4 will not only link both sides of the Ohio River, It helps bridge our communities together,We are one city, one community and one family, as I said in my inaugural address. Let me add a fourth element:We are one region. This project is proof of that.” The Indiana ramp will be an L shaped structure that descends northward from the floodwall along Mulberry St. then east on
Chestnut St to Pearl St. and is expected to be completed by spring 2013.

~Norma Snyder