Thursday, March 29, 2001

Span gets new lease on life

It will close to motor vehicles, reopen to pedestrians and bicycles

By Terry Flynn and Ray Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Officials on both sides of the Ohio River are completing plans for closing the L&N Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati — then reopening it for pedestrians and bicycles.

        “We don't have an exact date for closing yet, but it will probably be mid-May,” Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini said Wednesday. “I'm meeting with (Southbank Partners President) Wally Pagan ... to work out final details and plans for a celebration to mark the closing.”

[photo] Michelle Theis (left), of Milford, and Kim Rechtin, of Fort Thomas, run across the L&N Bridge, which soon will be open only to pedestrians, skaters and bikers.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        On the Kentucky side, the bridge is next to Newport on the Levee, an entertainment and shopping center scheduled to open in September. On the Ohio side, the bridge feeds into the area being developed as part of the riverfront master plan.

        Southbank, a nonprofit group of business leaders charting Northern Kentucky's riverfront development, received $4 million from the commonwealth to close and convert the historic bridge, which was given to the group by CSX.

        State Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, instrumental in securing the $4 million from the General Assembly, said he has spoken with Peter Wolff, assistant to the state highway engineer, and was assured everything was moving ahead.

        The L&N Bridge is two bridges — one for automobiles and pedestrians, the other for trains. The train side has been closed for many years.

        The auto bridge will be closed while it is made safe and pleasing to walkers, joggers, hikers, in-line skaters and cyclists. It will then reopen for nonmotorized crossing.

        Kyle Keller and his 5-year-old nephew Joey Brown were headed from their home in Newport for the banks of the Ohio River Wednesday. Their route - across the L&N bridge to the Cincinnati side.

        Mr. Keller said he is eager for the change.

        “It gives pedestrians a little more room, a little more room to walk and see the view and take the kids out,” Mr. Keller said. “I think there's too much vehicle traffic anyway.”

        Mr. Ciafardini said the $4 million allocated by the state will be used for painting, structural work needed on the surface and sides of the bridge, and a new lighting program.

        “The new approaches on each side probably will be the responsibility of the cities on each side,” he said. “In Newport, the Newport On The Levee developer may be involved in some of the approach work at Third and Saratoga.”

        Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey sent a letter to Mr. Pagan praising Southbank for its work in converting the bridge, and “helping link Cincinnati with your great state.”

    The L&N Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati was built in 1872 by the Keystone Bridge Co. of Pittsburgh, a company incorporated by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. It was a truss-type bridge with a single set of tracks, a walkway and a road.
    The bridge was built because the Louisville & Nashville Railroad wanted a connector from the south into Ohio and the east. It came five years after the opening of the Roebling Suspension Bridge between Covington and Cincinnati in 1867.
    L&N eventually became part of the CSX rail system. Trains stopped using the bridge in 1987, when CSX closed it because the aging span could not handle the weight of trains. The line of tracks that fed the bridge ran down the center of Newport's Saratoga Street.
        The letter explained Cincinnati's efforts to coordinate work on that side of the bridge.

        “Our departments of city planning, economic development, neighborhood services, transportation and engineering will be coordinating the development, land use and infrastructure,” Mr. Shirey said. “We cannot finalize the specific bridge connection and infrastructure plans until we are farther along with the development picture. I feel the pedestrian bridge concept is a great idea and support your efforts to make it happen.”

        Cincinnati planners, Mr. Shirey's letter said, are conducting a study which should be completed soon on the details of the infrastructure.

        Some who walked across the bridge Wednesday looked forward to an all-pedestrian L&N bridge.

        Newport resident Danny Smith walks about 3 miles a day, and used the bridge to meet a friend for lunch in Cincinnati, and he said he crosses the river two or three times a week.

        “I've been using the bridge for 10 years,” said Mr. Smith, 31. “(A pedestrian-only bridge) is a good idea. I used to drive across it, too; it's not very wide.”

        But not everybody likes the idea.

        Joe Berger is the business manager at Holiday House Liquors at the corner of Third and Saratoga streets. He said the remodeling of Third Street from Washington Street to the river has cost him about 20 percent of his sales.

        “A lot of customers are saying (the state is) making a puzzle to get down here,” Mr. Berger said.

        Mr. Keller said the toughest thing about Wednesday's trip with Joey was keeping the youngster from throwing rocks off the bridge.

        “I told him that's not a good idea,” Mr. Smith said.

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