Louisville lawmaker: Name new Ohio River bridge for Abraham Linc - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville lawmaker: Name new Ohio River bridge for Abraham Lincoln

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A new downtown bridge would be named for Abraham Lincoln under a resolution a Louisville lawmaker plans to file when the Kentucky General Assembly resumes this week.

State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said he will introduce the measure Tuesday to name the Interstate 65 span for Lincoln, who was born near Hodgenville, Ky., before moving as a boy with his family to Indiana.

“It should appeal to both states,” Burch said in an interview.

“Lincoln's from Kentucky. He was a president of the United States. I just think it's a good idea,” he said.

The new bridge, which is set to carry I-65 traffic starting in early 2016, is one of two river crossings being built as part of the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Kentucky is in charge of the work downtown, while Indiana is overseeing a bridge between Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky.

Burch's proposal comes a year after Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, filed resolutions to name the I-65 bridge for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and a tunnel on the Kentucky side leading to the eastern bridge after Lincoln. Both died in a Senate committee.

Yum! Brands proposed naming the downtown bridge after KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders in a social-media blitz last year, while Bellarmine University has suggested Thomas Merton, the Trappist writer and monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Unlike the myriad roads and bridges across Kentucky named in memory of officials, police officers, soldiers and others, an act of the legislature may not guarantee the name of the new bridge. The development agreement governing the two-state project doesn't address how the bridges will be named, said Chuck Wolfe, a Transportation Cabinet spokesman.

Further complicating matters is the ownership of the new spans: Kentucky will “own” the downtown bridge, and Indiana will “own” the eastern bridge, until the construction debt is paid off in the 2050s, Wolfe said. After that, the two states will have equal ownership.

Kentucky's transportation secretary has the discretion to name roads and bridges after receiving a petition in writing, but state regulations don't mention bridges connecting to another state.

“There doesn't seem to be a definitive answer on this,” Wolfe said.

He declined to speculate on what would happen if a resolution naming one of the bridges passes the Kentucky House and Senate and is signed into law.

Burch said he believes Indiana will have input on naming the downtown bridge, and “I like to think of both sides of the river.”

Naming a bridge between Kentucky and Indiana after Lincoln is a “natural fit,” said Warren Greer, director of the nonprofit Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail, which includes the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park and Farmington.

Besides those states figuring prominently in the early years of the nation's 16th president, Warren said Lincoln was moved by an event at Louisville's waterfront – near the bridge now under construction – after a visit to his friend Joshua Speed's Farmington estate in 1841.

While leaving Louisville, Greer said, Lincoln witnessed a boat carrying slaves presumably headed to slave markets in New Orleans. The experience affected Lincoln for years to come, he said.

In 1855, eight years before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, Lincoln wrote to Speed that the “sight was a continual torment to me … [having] the power of making me miserable.” 

Greer said naming the bridge after Lincoln would highlight his legacy and his links to the two states, which already mention him on their highway entry signs.

“There are pretty powerful connections to Lincoln right where the bridge is going in,” he said.

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