The Big Four Railroad Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River and connects Louisville, Kentucky to Jeffersonville, Indiana, once carried the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway – also referred to as the “Big Four Railroad.” The six-span truss bridge was completed in 1895, but not after several spectacular construction failures and the deaths of 37 workers.
The railroad bridge was upgraded in 1928 to accommodate larger and heavier trains and was continuously used until 1968, when the Big Four Railroad’s parent company, the New York Central, merged with Penn Central. The bridge soon fell into disrepair, and traffic was rerouted onto the Ohio River Falls Bridge. In 1969, the approaches were sold and dismantled for scrap.
And so, the Big Four Bridge remained a solemn reminder of the United State’s rich railroading past for forty years, its main span neutered from both ends. The bridge rusted away and became a blight to the city until a proposal in 1988 from Costa Rica called for the bridge to be dismantled and rebuilt in their country. That idea was never realized. Fast forward to 2006, when work began to convert the Big Four Bridge into a rail-to-trail as part of the final 13-acre phase of the 85-acre Waterfront Park project. The initial proposal called for an earthen mound that would form an elliptical spiral ramp to meet the main span of the Big Four Bridge, but that idea was scrapped in favor of a circular Corten steel ramp.
On July 6, 2011, the spiral ramp in Louisville’s Waterfront Park was opened for just one day. The groundbreaking included Kentucky Governor Beshear, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, U.S. Representative Yarmuth and Jeffersonville Mayor Galligan, along with 200 other cyclists and walkers. The ramp cost $6.8 million to construct, and was actually completed in 2010 but not used until the groundbreaking.
The ramp will not be open again until the bridge deck over the river is rebuilt – which could occur by summer 2012, and the Jeffersonville ramp is completed.