Sunday, May 20, 2001
$4M grant to transform L&N Bridge into pedestrian walkway

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The plan to refurbish the 130-year-old L&N Bridge as a pedestrian walkway between Newport on the Levee and Cincinnati's riverfront is about a year behind schedule. Kentucky officials have discovered that giving away a bridge is more difficult than they thought. And Cincinnati officials are running behind in planning how the walkway will be integrated into the riverfront near Sawyer Point. The Kentucky General Assembly earmarked $4 million last year for the reconditioning of the vehicle side of the divided bridge. The other half of the bridge was for trains and has been closed for about 20 years. The bridge's vehicle side was recently closed to traffic and is used by pedestrians. But the refurbishment plans, especially on the Ohio side, are still up in the air.

"It's not every day the state gives away a bridge over a major river. I don't think this has ever happened before in Kentucky,�� Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini said, noting that it has taken more time than expected to complete paperwork and finish the legalities of transferring the bridge from the state to the city. Officials from the city of Newport, Southbank Partners and the Kentucky state transportation department have been working to finish the turnover. The hope is that the old steel bridge will become a regular path between the two cities and such sites as the new Reds and Bengals stadiums and the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, and Newport on the Levee and the Newport Aquarium on the Kentucky side. Kentucky officials, who had initially said the bridge would be closed for the renovation in mid-May, are facing a June 14 deadline for the work to begin in order to keep the state grant. The bridge is currently closed to vehicles because of roadwork in both Newport and Cincinnati.

"I'm as optimistic as I've ever been that this will be concluded in about a week," said state Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, who pushed for the $4 million grant from Frankfort. "It's not a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. The money is secure. We just want to be certain that everything is done correctly."

Mr. Callahan said he was assured by state transportation department officials that the bridge would not reopen until after the work is done to upgrade the structure and convert it to pedestrian-only use.

Wally Pagan, president of Southbank Partners, a coalition of businesses and professionals promoting development of the Northern Kentucky riverfront, said the state is preparing to transfer ownership of the bridge to Newport. The road and ramp work at either end of the bridge will be the responsibility of the cities of Newport and Cincinnati, although Steiner & Associates, developer of the Newport on the Levee entertainment and shopping complex, probably will assist Newport with the Kentucky side. The portion of the bridge just off the Third Street ramp on the Kentucky side will be designed to complement the Newport on the Levee complex.

Cincinnati hasn't solidified its plans for the Ohio side of the bridge. That is under the control of the newly created Port Authority, which is overseeing the $250 million Banks project to create a riverfront neighborhood with shops, restaurants, condos and office buildings. Joe Vogel, acting principal transportation design engineer for Cincinnati, said the city was involved briefly in the L&N Bridge planning after Newport was awarded the $4 million grant, but only recently re-entered the process. "We're trying to come up with a coherent plan on our side to match the one Southbank and Newport have developed," Mr. Vogel said. "We wanted to look at what could be done at our end to accommodate people and make it a positive thing."

There are two ramps from the bridge on the Cincinnati side, one to Pete Rose Way and the other to Third Street. Mr. Vogel said the city is considering removing the ramp to Third Street because it would serve no purpose for pedestrians. Similarly, the circular on-ramp from Pete Rose Way to the bridge will be eliminated and possibly converted to recreation space. The bridge might also be linked to a planned bicycle route that will run from the riverfront park area to Lunken Airport and Playfield. "We're working with the city planning department in developing our response to Kentucky," Mr. Vogel said, "but at this point I don't know when it will be ready.�� The Kentucky agency that helped develop the idea will stay involved, but will not own the L&N Bridge. Newport will own the bridge", Mr. Pagan said.

"We'll (Southbank and Newport) set up an entity to manage and control the bridge, and set policies which will include responsibility for maintenance of the bridge." Mr. Pagan said a ceremony will be held to officially close the bridge and signal the start of work to rehabilitate it as a pedestrian-only thoroughfare.

The work will include repairs to the roadbed, a new coat of paint for the steel structure, fencing for the railings and new lighting.

"Our vision of this right now is for the railroad bridge (next to the walkway) eventually to be used for mass transit, whether that turns out to be light rail, vintage trolley or other means of transport," Mr. Pagan said. "We want it to be a major mode of transport to connect Cincinnati, Bellevue and Newport."