New downtown Louisville bridge named for Abraham Lincoln

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Call it the Lincoln Bridge.

The new Interstate 65 crossing between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., will bear the name of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States who was born near Hodgenville, Ky., Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday.

Beshear announced the choice of Lincoln, who spent his boyhood in Indiana before moving with his family to Illinois, near a statue of the former president looking out on the Ohio River at Louisville's Waterfront Park.

"In a sense, Lincoln has been watching this bridge rise from the river since construction began," Beshear said. "And now the bridge that bears his name will remain forever under his watch, joining the two states he first called home to the rest of the country that he helped reunite."

Lincoln served as president during the Civil War and in 1863 signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Confederate states.

Speaking at Waterfront Park, Beshear recalled an episode more than 20 years before the order in which a young Lincoln traveled from Louisville to St. Louis on a steamboat with about a dozen slaves shackled together.

"The image of those slaves affected Lincoln profoundly and he later wrote that the memory tormented him for years. It strengthened Lincoln's belief that the institution of slavery was an abomination. And as we know -- the rest is history," Beshear said.

Besides Lincoln, former Kentucky Gov. and U.S. Senator Wendell Ford and Trappist monk Thomas Merton were among some of the names put forth by elected officials and others.

Beshear said the state considered "a lot of suggestions" before settling on Lincoln. By executive order, he directed Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock to issue an official order naming the bridge.

Bridges in Kentucky can be named by legislative mandate or by the Transportation Secretary, said Chuck Wolfe, a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman.

A resolution that failed to advance in this year’s Kentucky General Assembly would have named the bridge for Lincoln.

The bridge is one of two being built as part of the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, which also is reconfiguring the Spaghetti Junction interchange near downtown Louisville.

Jim Stark, the Indiana Department of Transportation's deputy commissioner of innovative project delivery, said there have been no discussions about naming an upriver bridge between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind. Indiana will name that span.

The downtown bridge is expected to open to traffic before Christmas. It is being built alongside the current I-65 bridge – the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge – which will be converted to carry southbound traffic only.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the choice of Lincoln is "perfect."

"He's our great unifier as a president," Fischer said. "And at this time, with all of the silliness and fear mongering around refugees, all the difficulty in the country around race -- to have him kind of calmly overlooking this divide right here and bringing us together, I think it's perfect."

Indiana state Rep. Steve Stemler, who sponsored a resolution in the Indiana General Assembly encouraging the bridge to be named for Lincoln, said in a text message that the name is "very appropriate given President Lincoln's history in both Kentucky and Indiana."

The move also shows that Kentucky, a border state in the Civil War, has embraced Lincoln's legacy in the state, said Warren Greer, director of the nonprofit Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail, which includes the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park.

"The bridge is yet another great example of that," he said.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.