Some Hoosiers are concerned a proposed $975 million tolled bridge connecting Indiana and Kentucky through Interstate 69 will be accessible only to vehicles, unlike similar inter-state river crossings in the Midwest.
The design for the bridge has not been finalized, but models for the 4-lane Ohio River bridge and draft project documents show that pedestrian and bicycle access are not part of current planning, an omission that could affect disabled and low-income Hoosiers and cyclists.
Increased walking and cycling by commuters could cut down on greenhouse gas emissions emitted by vehicles on the potentially busy crossing.
“There was very little outreach at all to trails groups, to hiking groups, to walking and running groups, certainly to the disabled and folks that don't own automobiles, which is a hefty percentage down in that area,” said Gary Davis, community and government relations liaison for the nonprofit organization Indiana Trails.
“It makes perfect sense that, in designing a new bridge like this, why wouldn't you have accommodations for some folks to get across that bridge to connect these two cities that are not now safely connected for non-motorized transit? Why wouldn't you have a way for people to connect with each other on both sides of the Ohio River in a non-polluting fashion?”
The Interstate 69 Ohio River Crossing is a joint effort between the states of Kentucky and Indiana to link Henderson, Ky. and Evansville, Ind. via Interstate 69 that will eventually replace the “Twin Bridges” of US-41.
The project will be completed in two parts, the first of which begins construction in 2022 and will be done completely in Kentucky.
The second part of the project will extend from US-60 in Kentucky, over the Ohio River and stop at the Veterans Memorial Parkway in Evansville.
The design for that part of the project will not be finalized until about 2025.
Davis said there is still time for project planners to incorporate access for pedestrians and cyclists, who currently have few options for crossing the Ohio River.
Between Evansville and Jeffersonville, about a dozen bridges span the Ohio River. Only several bridges connecting Jeffersonville and Louisville allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross safely.
“West of Louisville, unless you are the most courageous, experienced bicycle rider, or a hiker or walker, there is no safe way for you to cross the Ohio River west of Louisville until you get to the ferryboat in Southern Illinois, which is not necessarily easily accessible,” Davis said.
In recent years, Gov. Eric Holcomb has made improving state infrastructure one of the main pillars of his agenda through the Next Level Connections program.
Two of the main aims of the program are to link communities across the state with hiking, biking and riding trails and completing major road projects.
Through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the program has awarded more than $50 million to regional and local trails programs, some of which provide transportation connections between communities.
Since the Next Level Connections program was introduced in 2018, the Indiana Department of Transportation has begun to attempt to “advance” active transportation, which includes walking and cycling, in the state.
But Davis said INDOT remains focused on cars and trucks, a stance which could stunt the design possibilities and uses of the new bridge.
“We believe that the Indiana Department of Transportation can no longer be seen as just focused on cars and trucks. Their insight and their overview has to be much more broad and including things like protected safe pathways on major bridges,” Davis said.
Other Midwestern states have already incorporated pedestrian and bike-friendly designs into other cross-river mega bridges.
The Interstate 74 Mississippi River Bridge connecting Iowa and Illinois will feature a 14-foot-wide multiuse path on one side of the bridge.
The six-lane Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Canada will feature a “dedicated multiuse path” for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We don't have to look too far for some really great state of the art examples of what's happening in the industry as far as design and architecture and engineering,” Davis said.
Davis said there is no reason why Indiana should not have a comparable bridge, especially since Hoosiers will be paying for part of the project.
The project will also be partially funded by the federal government.
The Federal Highway Administration, which will have the final say when the design plan is submitted by Kentucky and Indiana, supports incorporating pedestrian and bicycle paths into infrastructure.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend mayor who now runs the department that oversees the FHWA, has also voiced support for cycling infrastructure.
“What I can say is that whether it's hard resources or whether it's moral support, you're going to see a lot of energy coming from my office and my team to help move things along. We're going to be a better safer, cleaner, and greener country the more people have safe options to get around on two wheels,” Buttigieg told the League of American Bicyclists.
Several Indiana organizations, including the Hoosier Environmental Council, Evansville Trails Coalition, the Hoosier Rails-to-Trails Council and the Greenways Foundation have also expressed support for the addition of a pedestrian and bicycle into the bridge crossing design.
The Ohio River Crossing office had not responded to IER as of publication time.
INDOT officials have responded to IER. The officials said the crossing will maintain existing bicycle and pedestrian access on either side of the bridge, but the final design has not yet been finalized.
"The Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision is being developed based on extensive comments received and is expected to be published this fall," said INDOT strategic communications director Scott Manning.
The public can still help decide the future bridge Interstate 69 Ohio River Crossing design through the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which is accepting public comments on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program Plan until June 8.
To read the comment submitted by Indiana Trails, Evansville Trails Coalition and Better Transit Now, click here.