Madison, IN and Milton, KY are repairing a landmark and boosting biking and walking

Milton Madison bridge
The Milton-Madison bridge undergoing construction. Photo via the Milton Madison Bridge Project.

The reconstruction of a bridge spanning the Ohio River between Madison, IN and Milton, KY is more than just a long overdue repair. It is a restoration of a landmark, a way to better connect two interdependent communities and a means of bringing smart growth improvements to both sides of the river.

The existing Milton-Madison bridge had become functionally obsolete, deteriorating badly despite multiple rehabilitations. Its 20-foot wide road deck was too narrow to handle modern traffic and in August 2008, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation launched the Milton-Madison Bridge Project in an effort to replace the bridge.

The newly rebuilt bridge will better accommodate today’s traffic, and will also feature safe access for cyclists and walkers—something that was originally included on the bridge’s design when it opened in 1929.

“We want a better gateway for Indiana,” says Andrew Forrester, Director of Community Relations for Madison Mayor Damon Welch. “I think is going to be a catalyst for doing some of the pedestrian and bicycle access that we wanted to do a long time ago. It’ll become a gathering place, we hope.” Madison is also working to connect the bridge’s pedestrian and bicycle lanes through the city’s downtown to the Madison riverfront.

Milton, KY, is also working to expand its walking and bicycling infrastructure, and new biking and walking facilities will help Milton residents take full advantage of the new access.

“The bicycle access will be really awesome,” said Milton’s Debbie Crawford, who has been exhaustively documenting the project’s progress on Facebook. “Route 421 is a popular biking road, but those who use it now have to turn around and go back home at the bridge.” Feedback on the Facebook page suggests to Crawford that the community is “very excited” about both bicycle and pedestrian links to Madison.

The project was funded by a grant from the US Department of Transportation’s TIGER Grant Program, part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The most recent round of TIGER grants will award $474 Million to 52 economic development projects in 37 states, including streetcar in Kansas City and the BeltLine in Atlanta. Additional funding for the Milton-Madison Bridge Replacement was split by Kentucky and Indiana, who cooperated in bringing the project to fruition. The reconstruction is projected to create or preserve 1,400 jobs.

The final element of the reconstruction will come when the new bridge is “slid” from its current position onto the old bridge’s reinforced piers. This “design-build” method of construction will allow the bridge to stay in its traditional place while minimizing the amount of time the bridge will be closed to traffic. The respect for cyclists and pedestrians in the new bridge’s design was sorely needed in both towns, but the continuity of the bridge’s design and location will preserve sense of place. “It just wouldn’t be Madison without the bridge,” said Forrester.