LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville waterfront officials say the time is right to renew the push for pedestrian and cycling access on the K&I Bridge.
The Waterfront Development Corp. broached the issue briefly at its meeting this month after Fischer, a board member, asked whether the renovated Sherman Minton Bridge will include a path for cyclists. That project won’t.
But Fischer told WDRB News in an interview that it’s important to finish an Ohio River loop between Louisville and Southern Indiana, where a trail system in Clark and Floyd counties is being completed.
On the Louisville side, early work is underway to expand Waterfront Park to the west and toward Norfolk Southern Corp.’s railroad bridge between the Portland neighborhood and New Albany, Ind.
Despite previous pressure from elected officials and business leaders in Kentucky and Indiana, Norfolk Southern has resisted efforts to allow people on the span’s former car lanes. The company did not return a phone message seeking comment.
“It’s time for us to approach them again to see if they can be a partner on this project,” Fischer said. His administration has not yet talked with the railroad about the new effort, he said.
Fischer and others view the K &I as a logical westernmost link across the river for the region’s parks and trail systems, complementing the Big Four Bridge in Waterfront Park to the east.
Waterfront officials have worked for years on a project that David Karem, the Louisville park agency’s president, calls the "Kentuckiana River Trail." But in the past, he said, "you were talking about something that could happen. Now you’ve got something that really would happen if you could let us have access to the eastern pathway, to the eastern vehicular pathway that’s on the K&I Bridge."
In New Albany, Mayor Jeff Gahan said he understands the railroad company’s concern about trains running next to a pedestrian path. But he believes Norfolk Southern first needs to see a specific plan about how the bridge would be used and accessed.
“When we get serious about that and we make a proposal, I think at that point you can probably expect Norfolk to give it some additional consideration,” Gahan said. “… We’re not prepared to make that proposal yet, but we’re taking incremental steps. We’re gradually getting there.”
In its list of legislative priorities for 2019, the Greater Louisville Inc. chamber of commerce said a biking and pedestrian loop around Louisville that extends into Indiana “has the potential to become truly regional.” The chamber supports completing the link between Portland and New Albany.
But the K&I Bridge might not be the only way to do that.
To Scott Martin, executive director of the nonprofit Jeffersonville, Ind.-based River Heritage Conservancy, crossing the river on the railroad bridge is the equivalent of taking a freight elevator to the top of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper.
“It would get you to the top,” he said, “but the experience would not be super enjoyable.”
Instead, he said, the Louisville region needs to at least explore what a well-designed, multi-use bridge would look like.
As just one example, he cited the example of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge that spans the James River in Richmond, Va. The cyclist and pedestrian bridge was completed in 2016.
“We think some real thought should be given to building a crossing with pedestrians in mind first, in addition to looking at a retrofit of K&I,” Martin said.
He added: "We should also ask the question: Is this really the best we should hope for, or are we settling?"