Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stands behind the gates Thursday holding back a large group of pedestrians, bicyclists and pets that will hike up the spiral walkway and onto the Big Four Bridge.
“Count it down,” someone yells, anticipating the gates being lifted.
Instead, a sound of a railroad locomotive plays over the speakers, kicking off the bridge’s soft-opening, representing the days when the bridge was used for trains.
“You can see people are getting ready to come across the bridge for the first time. Look how happy everybody is right now,” says Fisher as the gates were removed.
The bridge’s over $22 million renovation includes a new lighting system and benches that were added over the past several weeks. It’s expected to remain open every day except for Thunder Over Louisville and certain weather conditions.
Jeffersonville is still working to complete its side of the project and the public won’t be allowed to exit the bridge into Indiana until later this year.
Although alone, Brad Hammond—one of several who attended Thursday’s opening ceremony to walk the span—says he’s walking in memory of his brother who died last year.
“To me, we’re both walking across it today,” he says.
Up on the bridge, Louisville historian Rick Bell overlooks downtown.
“You can see the change in this community more graphically here than any other single spot,” he says.
Bell authored the book “Louisville’s Waterfront Park: A Riverfront Renaissance.” He says the bridge represents a link between Louisville and Jeffersonville making it one large community.
“For the first 150 years of our history, especially during the steam boat era, the waterfront was always the most valuable property in the city and we’ve always had a special relationship to the water’s edge in this community,” Bell says.
For Bell, history aside, the view he sees on the Big Four Bridge is “unbelievably cool.”