Glad I didn’t tear down the Big Four Bridge

Big Four Bridge

City_of_Louisville-seal bw.jpgFrustrated, I convened an administrative hearing at City Hall, giving notice to Penn Central to show cause why the structure should not be condemned as a hazard to public safety.  When no one from the mammoth railroad company appeared at the hearing, I ordered it condemned and demolished.  David vs. Goliath.

The problem, of course, was that my agency didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money it would have cost to demolish the bridge.  One contractor proposed to cut it apart with explosives; but even after the salvage value of the steel superstructure, we were several million dollars short of being able to pay for it.

Then I happened to read an article in the Wall Street Journal, indicating that Penn Central had filed for Chapter-11 bankruptcy protection in federal court.  On a whim, I wrote a stern letter to the Chief Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia, complaining about the lack of cooperation the sovereign City of Louisville was receiving from Penn Central executives.  Then all hell broke loose.

Penn Central Logo.jpgThe Bankruptcy Judge was apparently a pretty tough customer, and he came down hard on the folks at Penn Central.  Within a week, I was receiving conciliatory telephone calls from Philadelphia lawyers and the suits at Penn Central headquarters.  All of a sudden, they were simply overflowing with cooperation.

The lawyers did outsmart me on one score, however.  The bridge itself is located over the Ohio River, and at the time, the Commonwealth of Kentucky extended to the Indiana shore of the river, but the City of Louisville stopped at the Kentucky shoreline.  So, in those pre-Metro-merger days, my condemnation jurisdiction was limited to the Southern approaches to the bridge; the structure itself was located in Jefferson County.

The County building inspection department was run by the Republicans back then, and they were advised that they didn’t have the authority to condemn the bridge.  The U.S. Corps of Engineers also demurred, saying that the bridge was not a navigational hazard, so long as lights could be maintained on each support pier.  So Penn Central simply demolished the rotting wooden approaches within the city limits, and left the bridge itself intact, abandoned.  (Later, Indiana authorities forced them to tear down the Northern approaches to the bridge.)