Tuesday, April 03, 2001

Shortway Bridge takes a final turn

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A sign announces the final day of the storied Shortway Bridge over the Licking River between Covington and Newport.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — Amid the constant scrape of backhoe against asphalt that signaled the end of an era Monday, you could almost hear the echo of trolley cars. The Shortway Bridge, which in several incarnations has spanned the Licking River for 109 years, was closed after Monday morning's rush-hour commute.

        Closed for good, for progress and for the memory banks of those who grew up around it in Covington and Newport.

        A new four-lane bridge adjacent to it, costing $10.2 million, is under construction and should be open in the fall, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabi net. It will have a 5-foot-wide pedestrian walkway.

        The old closed car and pedestrian bridge, built of steel in 1915 as a trolley thoroughfare, will then be razed.

        “It just got old,” said Joe King, 19, of Newport, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt as he rode his bike Monday to the foot of the bridge in Covington, next to a vacant lot where a house used to be.

        Mr. King lived in that two-story home, in the shadow of the Shortway, for four years as a kid.

        “There's a lot of people who care, young and old, you know,” he said, squinting in the spring sun.

        The blue-gray Shortway, also known as the 12th Street Bridge, was largely a local road, with a daily traffic count of 14,000 vehicles in 1998. But by 2020, the number of vehicles is expected to rise to 18,000, according to Greg Kreutzjans, district construction engineer for the transportation cabinet.

        Motorists now must take the Fourth Street Bridge in

        Covington and Interstate 275 to cross the Licking.

        “All I remember is throwing the coins in,” said Mr. Kreutzjans of growing up in the '70s and '80s.

        “They've been trying to do this for years and years and years,” said Utah Eversole, 66, who lives on 12th Street at the foot of the bridge on the Covington side.

        He stood on the sidewalk Monday, cigarettes tucked in his shirt pocket, and raised his voice over the din of construction work.

        “A lot of people are concerned about the traffic,” he said, “but I don't want to leave it. It's quiet here.”

        The Shortway was a toll bridge for decades — 5 cents for mules and buggies in the first part of the 20th century, 10 cents in the mid-'70s, with a package of 20 tokens going for $1.50.

        Its location made it a prime east-west route through the bustling river cities of Covington and Newport.

        The original Shortway was nearing completion in 1892 when it collapsed into the Licking, sending 31 construction workers to their deaths.

        For historical perspective, that was the year the legendary Ellis Island Immigrant Station in New York formally opened, the rules of basketball were published for the first time, and G.T. Sampson, an African-American inventor, patented one of the earliest clothes dryers. The current bridge was built in 1915 and operated by the Green Line Co.

        The state bought it in 1986 and removed the tollbooths, but not the memories.

        They continued to endure, even on Monday as backhoes peeled off layers of asphalt like so many rings in a tree.


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