Work Starts on Jeffersonville Ramp to Big Four Bridge

By: Ben Zion Hershberg • The Courier Journal

Linda Williams said she’s excited to see fencing spring up along Chestnut and Mulberry streets and construction equipment and materials accumulating behind the fences as work starts on Jeffersonville‘s ramp to the Big Four Bridge.

“We’re happy to see any kind of progress,” said Williams, who has a ringside seat for the ramp construction from her Old Bridge Inn at 131 W. Chestnut St., across Pearl Street from where the ramp will start.

“It won’t hurt my business,” Williams said, adding that she’s even more excited about the potential benefits to merchants on nearby Spring Street from pedestrian traffic crossing the Big Four Bridge from Louisville. She may open a small shop in her bed and breakfast aimed at such visitors, Williams said.

The Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Co. won a $6.5 million contract from the Indiana Department of Transportation in February to build the ramp, which will run from the bridge down Mulberry Street and then east on Chestnut to Pearl Street.

The ramp will complete the conversion of the former railroad bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle path across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

Conversion of the Big Four to a pedestrian route was part of the 1991 master plan for Louisville’s Waterfront Park. A spiral ramp to the bridge has been completed in Louisville at a cost of $6.5 million in private contributions, and reconstruction of the bridge deck for walkers and cyclists is under way.

The Jeffersonville ramp, the last part of the conversion, is expected to open in March 2013.

Andy Couch, Jeffersonville’s city engineer, said utility lines in the route of the bridge ramp are being relocated, and roads have been blocked and fences and plastic silt barriers have been erected around the site.

The first two pylons to support the ramp will soon be erected on the river and city sides of the floodwall at Mulberry Street, said former Mayor Rob Waiz, now economic development director.

“It will do a lot for downtown Jeffersonville,” he said.

There is one shotgun house on Chestnut near Mulberry Street that must still be moved or demolished, Waiz said.

He thinks the house most likely will be torn down in a couple of weeks because no buyers have expressed interest in the 1940s-era residence.

Some of its block may be used in structures in the park the city is planning for the area, Waiz said.

Waiz said he expects two other homes on Pearl Street to be moved because of their historic value, adding that none of the demolition or house-moving plans will delay ramp construction.

“We are very excited, we see there is work being done” on the Big Four ramp, said Jill Schimpff, co-owner of Schimpff’s Confectionery on Spring Street in downtown Jeffersonville.

She’s confident the Big Four will bring shoppers from Louisville to her business and others on Spring Street, Schimpff said.

She has an idea for a celebration or festival when the Big Four opens, with Jeffersonville’s merchants putting up booths and signs along the river — if not on the bridge itself — to welcome pedestrians, Schimpff said.

“I think when it’s complete we will have a big bridge party,” Schimpf said, with her shop providing bridge mix for the festivities.