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Imagine riding a bike or walking with your family across the Ohio River on the Milton-Madison Bridge.
It’s a dream for George Freeman, a former Madison resident who has started a grass-roots effort to preserve the 80-year-old span for future generations.
Freeman, who owned WIKI Radio station for 20 years, is circulating a petition to have the old span preserved as a foot bridge. He also wants to see an observation tower included on any new structure that might replace the existing bridge for motor vehicle traffic.
Freeman bases his ideas on a similar project in Maine. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was built in 2006 to span the Penobscot River in Waldo County. The observatory is 42 stories high; visitors pay from $2 to $5 each to access the observatory by a high-speed elevator.
The Waldo-Hancock Bridge, a suspension bridge built in 1931, still is used for recreation.
Freeman said Monday that he believes funding to preserve and maintain the old bridge could come from selling naming rights to a corportation – such as The Historic LG&E Pedestrian Bridge.
He said naming rights also could be sold for an observation tower on a new span – such as the Rotary Lift Observation Tower.
“I don’t know if we can sell it, but we’ll try,” he said. Freeman added that the state also could take money it will have to set aside for demolition of the old bridge and turn it over to his preservationists.
Freeman said he is doing “due diligence” with research to determine what is needed to refurbish and maintain the bridge.
“We need to get a handle on the safety issues and financial part of it,” and find out if one of the local governments – Jefferson County or Madison in Indiana or Trimble County in Kentucky – could add the bridge to their insurance plans. “Hopefully, we could come in under one of those umbrellas.”
Sue Reid, president of the Trimble County Historical Society, said she and the society’s members have agreed to help circulate Freeman’s petition in the area, and to write letters of support to local representatives.
“I do see the potential,” said Reid, who lives in Crestwood, Ky. “It would give people the opportunity to walk back and forth between Milton and Madison, and would be a tourist attraction.”
But, she added, “It would have to be something that Trimble Countians want.”
She said she is concerned that such a project may bring a lot of development and growth to the county down the road. “I don’t know if people in Trimble County want that.”
She said she’s seen her own hometown of Shelbyville transformed from a small town, where everyone knew their neighbors, to a much larger town that has lost that “neighborly” feel.
State Sen. Rick Rand, D-47th District, of Bedford, said preserving the bridge would likely cost millions of dollars. “Kentucky is going to want the bridge to come down,” he said. “Maintenance on such a bridge is terrific – even to paint it costs millions.”
Rand said he also is concerned that having two bridges in the area might affect navigation for barges and other river traffic. “The best thing to do is to take it down.”
He said he hopes that any new span could accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic, along with vehicular traffic.
Petitions are available at Farmers Bank of Milton and various locations in Madison. For more information, call Freeman at (419) 447-7514 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.