Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black/And the dark street winds and bends
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow/We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go/To the place where the sidewalk ends
The words of author/poet Shel Silverstein were recited by State Rep. Dennis Keene just before the ribbon was cut, opening the new bridge that welcomes Riverfront Commons to Newport and the Northern Kentucky River Cities.
"What he's telling all of us is, we need to find hope, joy, and excitement where the sidewalk ends and let our imagination grow from there," Keene said before alarge crowd of local elected and civic leaders at the foot of the Purple People Bridge.
The celebration marked the first phase of the ambitious Riverfront Commons, an 11.5 mile stretch of recreational walking and biking paths that will connect Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Ft. Thomas, Bellevue, and Dayton. The $1.2 million bridge project was funded through a combination of federal, state, and local dollars.
“We are working now to continue the expansion of this project which is an important economic development tool, connecting all our river cities and for our citizens to enjoy well into the future,” Keene said. He said the Riverfront Commons project, which is led by Southbank Partners, symbolizes what local leaders are trying to do in all of the urban communities: reestablish a relationship with the river and "the magic of its water". "We are giddy as kids on Christmas because of all the possibilities that lie ahead of us."
Plans for the project were first announced in 2003.
Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso was joined by Bellevue Mayor Ed Riehl (and former Bellevue Mayor Jack Meyer) and Covington Mayor Sherry Carran, and other local leaders. Peluso said that he's a big Cincinnati Reds fan but that the team is struggling this season because of various weaknesses, something Northern Kentucky's leaders are avoiding through projects like Riverfront Commons.
"You have to have teamwork to win and that's exactly what this project has," Peluso said. "When we come together there is little that we can't accomplish."
"It's a great day today and a wonderful day for pedestrians to be walking around," said Rob Hans, chief engineer of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 6 Office in Covington. The Cabinet plays a significant role in the project. "A lot of people think of the Transportation Cabinet as highways and that's farthest from the truth." Hans said the Cabinet wants to enhance the community for pedestrians, cyclists, and even aviators. Another nearby project that will help those efforts is the recreation of Route 9 from Wilder to the Taylor Southgate Bridge in Newport, Hans said.
"This is the first phase of the transformational Riverfront Commons project and is a result of tremendous cooperation between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the City of Newport," Southbank President Jack Moreland said.
Once created Riverfront Commons will make the south bank of the Ohio the most interesting walkway/bikeway in the mid-west, Southbank believes.
Riverfront Commons will seamlessly connect over the Purple People Bridge to trails in Cincinnati, to the Licking River Greenway in Northern Kentucky, and to Devou Park in Covington.
The 15-20 foot wide path will feature open park space at strategic points along the river, accommodating both walkers and bikers. A series of points of access, or nodes, will provide easy linkage to neighborhood, residential, business, entertainment and historic districts.
Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News