The Big Four Bridge carries a pedestrian and cycling path over the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky and Jeffersonville, Indiana. After years of being abandoned, the former railroad bridge was rehabilitated for non-vehicular use.
The Big Four Bridge was initially conceived by Jeffersonville city leaders in 1885, which led to the formation of the Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge Company in 1887. 2 A location for the crossing was soon approved by the United States Army Corps of Engineers despite protests from the riverboat industry.
The construction of a single-track railroad bridge began on October 10, 1888. 2 During its erection, 37 workers perished, twelve of whom drowned after a caisson that held back water from the river failed. Another four died several months later when a wooden beam broke while working on a different pier caisson. On December 15, 1893, a construction crane dislodged in strong winds while causing the falsework of a truss to collapse into the river, killing 21 workers and injuring 20 others.
The new Ohio River crossing was completed in September 1895 at the cost of $3.5 million. Still, the incidents left the Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge Company financially unstable. 2 The company was sold to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Big Four), giving the railroad its first entry into Louisville. The first electric interurban crossed the Big Four Bridge on September 12, 1905. 3 4 5
Due to the increasing size of railroad cars and steam engines, a contract was let in June 1928 for a more immense superstructure. 2 During construction, the Big Four was rerouted over the Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge while the electric interurbans were replaced with buses. The rebuilding efforts were completed on June 25, 1929.
The New York Central Railroad (NYC) acquired the Big Four in 1906 and operated it as a separate entity until 1930. The NYC merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central in 1968. At that time, all traffic on the Big Four was diverted to the Fourteenth Street Bridge to save on operating and maintenance costs, and in 1969, the lengthy approach spans were sold for scrap. 2 4
In 1988, Óscar Arias Sánchez, President of Costa Rica, inquired to the city of Louisville about purchasing the abandoned bridge for dismantling and reassembling in his country. 6 As the city did not own the bridge, the proposal to move the structure elsewhere did not go through.
A movement to convert the Big Four Bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle crossing picked up political steam in the 1990s when the Indiana Department of Transportation pledged $1 million. At the same time, the city of Jeffersonville pledged $200,000 towards the proposed $2.8 million cost to build the Indiana approach. The Kentucky approach was projected to cost $4 million, while the renovation of the main spans was slightly less at $3 million. 7 8 9
Work to rehabilitate the Big Four Bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle crossing began in mid-July 2009. By February 2013, pedestrians were allowed to access the Big Four Bridge from Louisville. 1 The Jeffersonville approach ramp opened on May 20, 2014.
- State: Indiana, Kentucky
- Route: Formerly Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Big Four)
- Type: Parker Through Truss, Pennsylvania Through Truss
- Status: Active - Pedestrian
- Total Length: 2,525 feet
- Main Span Length: 547 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 53 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Finally: Big Four Bridge opens to fanfare in Jeffersonville – After months of delays, Mayor Mike Moore officially opens the long-awaited pedestrian and bicycle bridge.” News and Tribune [Jeffersonville] 20 May 2014: n. pag. Print.
- Kleber, John E. “Big Four Bridge.” Encyclopedia of Louisville. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. 89. Print.
- Haffner, Gerald O. An Informal History of Clark County, Indiana. N.p.: Whipporwill, 1985. 111. Print.
- Heim, Michael. Exploring Indiana Highways: Trip Trivia. E. Wabasha: T.O.N.E., 2007. 141. Print.
- “Sunny Side of Louisville – Landmarks.” Clark-Floyd Department of Tourism. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2016. Article.
- McDonough, Rick. “Costa Rican may want to buy Big Four Bridge, move it south.” Courier-Journal [Louisville] 30 June 1988: 1B. Print.
- Shafer, Sheldon. “Bridges money may be shifted.” Courier-Journal [Louisville] 5 May 2007: n.p. Print.
- Mann, David. “Jeffersonville officials want redesigns for Big Four project.” Evening News [Jeffersonville] 27 Feb. 2008: n.p. Print.
- “Workers will examine Big Four next month; not anticipating structural damage after fire.” Evening News [Jeffersonville] 13 Nay 2008: n.p. Print.
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