The benefits of the new Terre Haute footbridge could multiply in the years to come | Opinion

HIGH EARTH – No one knows for sure what the coming week, month or year will bring.

After all, on New Years Day 2020, most of us planned to quit smoking, lose a few pounds, spend more time with loved ones and friends, and travel more.

The new pedestrian walkway along the US 150 between West Terre Haute and Terre Haute has the potential to improve the two cities it connects, depending on how humans react to it in the future. Its lifespan started this summer with a lot of long-term promise. Its short-term benefits materialized quickly. Walkers and cyclists began using the 1.1-mile path – adjacent to the southern edge of the freeway – as soon as teams from the Indiana Department of Transportation and contractor Beaty Construction completed the construction project. 11 months on July 19.

This is a small section of a 571 mile federal highway that stretches from Moline, Ill., To Mount Vernon, Ky. This particular segment, known to locals as ” grade ”, has long been known as a dangerous road. It traverses a marsh-like area of ​​the Wabash River watershed that is now a protected wetland – the Wabashiki Fishing and Wildlife Area – set aside in 2010 by the Health Rivers initiative of former Governor Mitch Daniels. The “grade” segment had almost no shoulder area and steep slopes on both sides, forcing people who walk or cycle for jobs or services to move in the traffic lanes of vehicles.

The footbridge puts an end to the fears of motorists that they will not see a pedestrian or a cyclist, especially at night.

It also opens up recreational activities, allowing the National Road Heritage Trail to finally cross West Terre Haute and potentially Illinois and neighboring Indiana counties to the north. More groups of recreational cyclists, bird watchers, runners, hikers and other outdoor activists could come to Terre Haute and West Terre Haute for outings, perhaps energize hotels and inspire new restaurants and tourism businesses along the route.

Its easternmost point is the newly designated Bicentennial Park on the Terre Haute side, while its westernmost point is Dewey Point – a park overlooking Wabashiki and the starting point of the Wabashiki Trail.

“The walkway connecting West Terre Haute and Terre Haute is incredible,” said Dan Bradley, former president of Indiana State University who chairs the trail committee of the Wabash Valley Riverscape organization. “There are people who use it, who walk, run or cycle at all hours. When Cheri (Bradley’s wife) and I were there a few weeks ago, a couple from West T told us they thought it was the best thing Vigo County Commissioners had done in a long time.

“As Bicentennial Park is developed along the river, it will only grow in terms of use,” added Bradley.

His reference to Stewards is one component of a vast network of Gateway advocates, which dates back several years. Entities also involved included the Midwest Economic Development District, the Metropolitan Planning Organization of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corporation, Riverscape, the Sisters of Providence in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, lawmakers of the state and others. DFO planners officially identified a connecting bridge as a community priority in 2011, said Jeremy Weir, director of transportation planning for the organization.

But the “someone’s got to do something” rhetoric started years ago.

“I think it’s a known problem, easily… forever,” Weir said. “There is no way to describe it other than that.”

The end result is a trail featuring composite deck boards lined up with steel I-beam supports, placed atop 301 steel piles driven 30 to 60 feet into the ground. Timber handrails run along each side. A series of 56 LED lights positioned 82 feet apart will illuminate the path at night, once power is connected. Its final cost – $ 6.1 million – was reduced thanks to the contractor’s proposal to halve the number of pilings needed, said INDOT project engineer Ben Leege.

Eighty percent of its funding came from the federal congestion, mitigation and air quality program, due to the footbridge’s impact on reducing vehicle traffic. Weir credited INDOT with targeting this source of funding. The remaining 20% ​​came from county funding, Weir explained. “The local game was not a small piece of change,” he said.

Among the first users of the gateway were Leege and his family, after he and the INDOT teams completed their work in July. “I think it’s great,” Leege said of the track.

He is not alone. A trio of athletic walkers took their first steps on the catwalk on the morning of Tuesday, September 7. “It’s so pretty,” said Brenda See, a Terre Haute resident joined by Tom and Linda Buckallew from West Terre Haute.

“I’m so glad they have this,” said Linda Buckallew. “Overnight, I’d be afraid someone was walking and you couldn’t see them.” Her husband agreed. “It’s much safer.

Sister Dorothy Rasche, who works with the non-profit Sisters of Providence Connection Link in West Terre Haute, advocated for the walkway long before it was built, with others including the former Vigo County Commissioner. , Judy Anderson. Rasche is already seeing a new activity in West Terre Haute.

“New companies are emerging [West Terre Haute] since the new gateway has been completed. I expect this trend to continue for some time into the future, ”said Rasche. “The connector is well used. I see cyclists, runners, families, groups of people walking all day and night. Even on these hot and humid days that we have had recently, there were people on the catwalk.

“I am happy that I do not have to worry about the safety of people walking on the road,” Rasche added. “They now have a safe place to go to Terre Haute and come back. What a blessing not only for West Terre Haute but for the entire county.

Likewise, Michael Shaw, who is the chairman of Riverscape, believes the catwalk “is a big step forward, and we have a lot more to look forward to.” He sees it as a success for the collaboration, as well as for its future benefits for fitness, recreational tourism and quality of life. Riverscape has advocated for improvements and economic development along the Wabash River since its formation in 2008. The pedestrian bridge is one of its many visions.

“It’s an asset that everyone in our community can use and appreciate, and a testament to how nonprofits, citizens and elected officials share a vision and work together for our riverside and areas. wet, ”Shaw said.

This cooperation will pay off for decades to come.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or [email protected]

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