EASY RIDERS: Bikers hit the trail and cross the bridge after the Nickel Plate trail bridge was officially opened on Friday. Staff photo by  Kelly Lafferty Gerber
EASY RIDERS: Bikers hit the trail and cross the bridge after the Nickel Plate trail bridge was officially opened on Friday. Staff photo by  Kelly Lafferty Gerber
Get ready to ride.

After around a decade of planning, the long-awaited $2.5 million pedestrian bridge over Ind. 931 officially opened Friday, allowing cyclists and walkers to travel more than 40 miles from downtown Kokomo to Rochester.

More than a dozen cyclists stood by waiting to be the first people to cross the bridge as city, county and trail officials met for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon. Semis and cars driving below the bridge spontaneously honked as the crowd waited in the sweltering heat. 

“It’s nice to see the number of cyclists and walkers who came out today just to be the first person across the bridge,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.

Goodnight, who has focused on developing the city's trails and walkways, said the opening of the bridge marked one of the last and biggest steps to connect the Nickel Plate Trail to downtown Kokomo.

“There have been a lot of small pieces of trail we’ve put together, but this was the big piece,” he said. “It was expensive, and it took a lot of cooperation between INDOT, the county, the city, the railroads and private investment. There were a lot of things that had to fall into place. It was little different than just vacating an alley.”

Kokomo City Engineer Carey Stranahan said Friday city officials first started discussing the project in 2007 and started designing the bridge in 2011.

Mike Kuepper, president of the Nickel Plate Trail organization who spearheaded the construction of the pathway in Miami County, said having a bridge to connect the trail to Kokomo was something he’s always dreamed about. Now, it’s a dream come true.

“This bridge is a huge step forward for the trail,” he said. “I think more people are going to travel here for this trail now because of the amenities offered in Kokomo. I know so many people are going to use it now, because it’s just so much more convenient.”

Stranahan said although the bridge is open, there are still a few finishing touches that need to be done. The biggest thing is installing prominent signage on the exterior of the structure welcoming people to the city and designating the bridge as part of the Nickel Plate Trail. Those signs will be backlit by an advanced lighting system.

“You’ve got to see it at night,” he said. “We know it’s functional, but we want to make it pretty while we’re at it.”

Stranahan said once the signs are installed, the bridge will serve as a kind of high-profile gateway into the city’s northside. 

The city is also working to put some finishing touches on its downtown trail to make it a seamless pathway all through the city.

Stranahan said the path is now paved to Northside Park, just south of Gano Street. He said the city plans to redesign a portion of Main Street, from Morgan to North streets, to create a seamless, straight-shot connection from the downtown to the pedestrian bridge.

The bridge also dovetails with other major projects on the trail. The city of Peru was recently awarded $200,000 to extend the Nickel Plate 2 miles through the city. Kuepper said Rochester is also extending the trail into its downtown.

The bridge project was funded through federal and state dollars. INDOT provided 80 percent of the funds. The remaining 20 percent was paid for with $200,000 in state money and Ind. 22 relinquishment funds. The county also provided $290,000 to extend the trail from Cassville to the bridge.

Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said connecting the pedestrian bridge to the trail was only made possible through cooperative partnerships between the state, city and county.

“It was an absolute no-brainer project for us, because this so obviously improves our community when it comes to walkability and fitness and cycling and everything else,” he said. “Trails bring people to a community, and we’ll see people using this all the time. It was a real honor and a privilege for the county to partner with the city on this project.”

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