The abandoned Big Four Railroad Bridge crosses the Ohio River, connecting Louisville, Kentucky to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and carried the former Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, also referred to as the “Big Four Railroad.” (1) The 2,525 feet span contains six trusses,(1) the northernmost of which is a riveted, eight-panel Parker through-truss.(2) The next three spans to the south are 547 feet in length and are riveted, sixteen-panel Pennsylvania through-trusses, while the southernmost two spans are riveted, 10-panel Parker through-trusses.
The Big Four Railroad Bridge’s conception dated to 1885, when Jeffersonville desired a link to Louisville via railroad.(3)(18) The Louisville and Jeffersonville Bridge Company was formed in 1887 to construct the crossing after gaining a charter by the state of Indiana and by one from Kentucky the year after. The location of the proposed span caused some tension, as the riverboat industry, who centered their operations along the banks of the Ohio River east of the center city, had requested the span be built further upstream from the Falls of the Ohio. The Army Corps of Engineers sided with the Bridge Company and approved the bridge location.
Construction began soon after on October 10, 1888, and claimed the lives of 37 during its construction.(3) Twelve died while working on a pier foundation, as the caisson that held back the river failed, causing the workers to drown. Four others died a few months after when a pier caisson failed.
One of the most spectacular bridge disasters occurred on December 15, 1893, when a construction crane became dislodged by a strong wind, causing the falsework support of a truss to become damaged. As a result, the truss, with 41 workers on the span, fell into the icy Ohio River. Twenty of the workers survived, but 21 perished. More lives were spared by the timing of an adjacent ferry, who barely missed hitting the workers floundering in the waters. Another truss fell a few hours later, but no one was on the span when that happened.
Falsework thereafter was longitudinally reinforced to prevent other occurrences, and to prevent strong winds from causing similar damage.(3)
The Big Four Bridge was completed in September 1895.(4) But because of the numerous incidents, the Louisville and Jeffersonville Bridge Company went into receivership and was sold later in the year to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway. The purchase of the bridge allowed the railroad to disregard the issue of trackage rights, as it had desired to enter Louisville regardless of the receivership.(3)
The Big Four Bridge allowed freight traffic to dramatically increase in Louisville, and began carrying high-speed interurbans on September 12, 1905..(5)(6)(7) The only major incident to occur on the bridge happened in January 1918, when two interurbans collided, killing 3 and injuring 20.
Due to bigger and larger trains, not only in size, but in weight, contracts were let in June 1928 to build a larger Big Four Bridge.(3) The new span, constructed by the Louisville & Jefferson Bridge Co.,(17) was built on the piers of the old bridge, while leaving the existing span intact while it was upgraded. All rail traffic was diverted to the Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge, while the interurbans were replaced by buses during the duration of the work.
In 1968, the Big Four Railroad’s parent company, the New York Central, merged into Penn Central, and the crossing fell into disrepair.(3)(6) Traffic was soon routed to the Ohio River Falls Bridge, and by 1969, the approaches had been removed and sold for scrap.(3)(6)(10)
Rail to Trail
The Big Four Bridge’s status until 2006 was not clear. A proposal in 1988 by Costa Rica to the city of Louisville called for the outright dismantling of the bridge and reassembly in Costa Rica. The idea was never realized, as the city did not own the bridge.(8)
In 2006, after litigation failed to stop the project, work began on a project to convert the Big Four Bridge into a rail trail as part of the Louisville Waterfront Park project. Designed by Hargreaves & Associates, the bridge conversion would be the final 13-acre phase of the 85-acre (14) Waterfront Park project.(13) An earthen mound would form the beginning of an elliptical spiral ramp that would soar 60 feet into the air to meet the approach of the Big Four Bridge, although this idea was later scrapped in favor of a circular Corten steel ramp.(15) A 60-foot viewing diameter platform would be installed at the top adjacent to the truss. The ramp was projected to cost $6.5 million.(16)
In May 2008, the bridge deck caught fire afteran inspection due to faulty wiring on a light fixture.(13) While the crossties and wooden walkway was damaged, the bridge structure itself remained unharmed.
In September, DeLeon & Primmer Architecture Workshop announced that their Happy Birthday Pavilion will be installed underneath the bridge and the circular Louisville access ramp.(13) The pavilion was designed to honor the Hill sisters who wrote “Happy Birthday to You.”(15)
In November, Jeffersonville officials announced that they were close to selecting a design for the Indiana approach to the Big Four Bridge.(9) Eight engineering firms submitted proposals, with an estimated construction cost of $5 million.
In June 2009, the state of Kentucky appropriated $12 million for the Big Four Bridge to receive a new bridge deck, guardrails and lighting.(10)(12)(17) The decking project could begin in July 2011.
A rendering of the Indiana approach ramp was unveiled at a Jeffersonville Board of Public Works and Safety on June 9, 2010, which prompted discussion of aesthetic treatment options. The Rose Hill Neighborhood Association, for instance, requested park benches and light posts with banners.(11) For the alignment, the city favored an approach that went over the floodwall and landed on Chestnut Street, between Mulberry and Pearl streets (10) in a park-like setting.(11)
The construction documents for the Indiana approach were completed in November 2010, with a revised construction estimate of $6 million to $8 million.(10) Half of the right-of-way required had been acquired at this point.(12)
Funding for the Indiana approach is unknown as of November 2010. Federal funding is being solicited, and in 2009, the city requested a federal grant through the Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery program (TIGER), although it was rejected because the construction plans had not been finalized.(10) Mike Kimmel, deputy director of Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corporation, stated that both Louisville and Jeffersonville officials have applied for funding through TIGER II, although less money was being awarded through the program.
Additionally, the Waterfront Development Corp. sought money from the Ohio River Bridges Project, which includes a parallel Interstate 65 bridge with a 17-foot pedestrian and bike path. Kimmel noted that by removing the path from the bridge, the money could be diverted to the Big Four Bridge and save the project $25 million.(12)
The Interstate 65 span with a walkway is estimated to cost $453.6 million, and the Jeffersonville portion of the Big Four Bridge is $10 million to $12 million.(12) Kerry Stemler, co-chairman of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, noted that the proposal is “a real possibility,” and that it “had real potential and merit.”
In February 2011, officials in Kentucky and Indiana announced that they had found funding to convert the main span of the Big Four into a non-vehicular thoroughfare.(17) It was also announced that Indiana was set to receive $8 million in federal assistance, matched with $2 million from a taxing district in Jeffersonville to pay for the approach ramp in Indiana.
On July 6, 2011, the spiral ramp in Louisville’s Waterfront Park was opened for just a day.(17) The groundbreaking included Governor Beshear, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, U.S. Representative Yarmuth and Jeffersonville, Indiana Mayor Galligan, along with 200 other cyclists and walkers. The total cost for the ramp was $6.8 million, and was completed in 2010 but not used until the groundbreaking.(17)(18) The Louisville approach will not reopen until the bridge ramp in Indiana and the deck over the Ohio River have been completed.
- Main span: 547 feet/167 meters
- Total length: 2,525 feet/770 meters
- Height: 53 feet/16 meters
- Longest, David E. Railroad Depots of Southern Indiana. N.p.: Arcadia, 2005. N. pag. Print.
- “Big Four Railroad Bridge.” Bridge Hunter. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Kleber, John E. Encyclopedia of Louisville. N.p.: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. 89. Print.
- Nold, Chip, et al. The Insiders’ Guide to Louisville, Ky & Southern Indiana. Manteo: Insiders’, 1997. 30. Print.
- Haffner, Gerald O. An Informal History of Clark County, Indiana. N.p.: Whipporwill , 1985. 111. Print.
- Heim, Michael. Exploring Indiana Highways: Trip Trivia. Wabasha: T.O.N.E., 2007. 141. Print.
- “Places to See.” Visit Southern Indiana. Clark-Floyd Department of Tourism, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- McDonough, Rick. “Costa Rican may want to buy Big Four Bridge, move it south.” Courier-Journal [Louisville] 30 June 1988: 1B. Print.
- “Jeffersonville bridge project close to decision.” News and Tribune [Jeffersonville] 20 Nov. 2008. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Mann, David A. “Big Four Bridge plans nearing completion, but funding still an obstacle.” News and Tribune [Jeffersonville] 13 Sept. 2010. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Lammers, Braden. “Big Four ramp plans move ahead.” News and Tribune [Jeffersonville] 10 June 2010. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Lammers, Braden. “Big Four funding in a state of flux.” News and Tribune [Jeffersonville] 5 June 2010. 18 Nov. 2010. Article.
- “Big Four Bridge Proposal By Studio Arne Quinze.” Broken Sidewalk. N.p., 26 Sept. 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. Article.
- “Wasteland No More: The Greening Of Waterfront Park (Phase III).” Broken Sidewalk. N.p., 13 Oct. 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Klayko, Branden. “Ramping Up Construction At The Big Four Bridge.” Broken Sidewalk. N.p., 30 Oct. 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. Article.
- “Revival of Big 4 railroad bridge in progress, Sky11 has the overhead view.” WHAS. N.p., 15 Aug. 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. Article.
- Teo, Bertrand. “Big Four ramp opens for a day.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 6 July 2011. Web. 21 July 2011. Article.
- Francis, Bill. “Big 4 Bridge restoration.” WDRB. N.p., 5 July 2011. Web. 21 July 2011. Article.