Friday, October 12, 2001

Chattanooga pedestrian bridge a hit

Newport's also likely to be attraction

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CHATTANOOGA — The Walnut Street Bridge over the Tennessee River, the world's longest pedestrian bridge, could serve as an example of what can be achieved with the L&N Bridge in Newport.

        Linking the downtown entertainment and business centers of Chattanooga with restaurants, a carousel, a theater and a riverfront park on the north shore, the restored bridge is busy year round and is as popular with residents as it is with visitors.

        “We love our bridge,” said Laquada Camp, a singing waitress at The Station House restaurant at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. “It's a favorite spot for walkers and runners along the River Walk, and it's fun to walk across the bridge to go to the park or the theater.”

[photo] Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton ties a ribbon at the L&N Bridge Thursday. At left is state Rep. Jim Callahan; Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli is on the right.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        That's just what Newport officials are hoping for with the closing of the L&N Bridge over the Ohio River and its transformation to a pedestrian-only structure. The plan started two years ago when a group of Kentucky officials led by Southbank Partners visited Chattanooga and walked the Walnut Street Bridge.

        The bright blue bridge, 2,370 feet long from ramp to ramp, was built in 1891 and was the first multiuse (horses, cars, pedestrians) structure to span the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. For more than 30 years it was the only way to cross the river at Chattanooga other than by boat.

        Between 1915 and the 1970s, three more bridges were built. But about 1990, state bridge inspectors determined that the bridge had to be closed because it could no longer safely carry vehicle traffic.

        Fortunately, a citizens group came forward with a plan to restore the structure and convert it to pedestrian only. City officials agreed, and about $4 million in mostly private funds was raised. The bridge reopened in 1993.

        “It's a real gem,” said Brad Crowell, who drives one of the electric shuttle buses that operate, free of charge, from the Choo Choo to the Tennessee Aquarium seven days a week. “There are people walking that bridge all year. They just had a wine tasting and charity fund raiser there (in September) and about 20,000 people showed up.”

        The Walnut Street Bridge can be leased for private functions and is also the scene of municipal events during the year.

        On the south shore is the eight-mile River Walk that follows the river bank above and below downtown Chattanooga, running under the bridge and connected to the north end of the bridge with a stairway.

        The surface of the Walnut Street Bridge is wood planking, both on the former roadway and the raised walks on either side. It is open to walkers, runners, bicycle riders, skaters and scooters, but nothing with any type of motor.

        Other than a three-foot-high railing, the sides of the bridge permit unobstructed views of both shorelines and the river.

        Police officials said they have very few trouble calls to the bridge, which is well lighted for nighttime strolls. One officer, who asked not to be identified, said it seemed to be a neutral zone where everyone enjoyed the walk and the view and kept the peace.

        The plans for the 1,500-foot-long L&N Bridge linking Newport's entertainment district with the Cincinnati riverfront near Sawyer Park, are much the same as those used to save the Walnut Street Bridge, including the $4 million provided by the state either for restoration or demolition.

        After the structure is inspected and any necessary repairs are made, it will be painted, new lighting will be installed and the roadway and sidewalks will be repaved or otherwise restored.

        The L&N Bridge was built in 1872 by the Keystone Bridge Co. of Pittsburgh, a company incorporated by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

        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.


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