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Iconic bridge’s name changing


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Former Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart stands, Monday July 29, 2013, just west of the Second Street Bridge which is to be renamed in Stewart's honor, by executive order of Indiana Governor Mike Pence.  (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Former Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart stands, Monday July 29, 2013, just west of the Second Street Bridge which is to be renamed in Stewart's honor, by executive order of Indiana Governor Mike Pence. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)

Former Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart stands, Monday July 29, 2013, just west of the Second Street Bridge which is to be renamed in Stewart's honor, by executive order of Indiana Governor Mike Pence.  (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Former Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart stands, Monday July 29, 2013, just west of the Second Street Bridge which is to be renamed in Stewart's honor, by executive order of Indiana Governor Mike Pence. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)


The Second Street Bridge — the arched and iconic entry to downtown Columbus — soon will have an official name, that of Robert N. Stewart, the former Columbus mayor who led the effort to make it an integral part of the city’s massive Front Door project of the 1990s.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Columbus native, issued an executive order Monday that authorized naming the bridge for Stewart, known by most people in Columbus as “Bob.”

“I’m just delighted with this honor,” Stewart said Monday afternoon. “It was announced at the weekly Rotary Club meeting earlier in the day, and a lot of the members had some fun with it, but I’m very humbled with this recognition.”

The bridge has had a generic title since it opened in 1999, but members of the Columbus City Council launched an effort last year to have it officially named in honor of Stewart, who served three terms as mayor from 1984 to 1996.

City Council member Frank Jerome said that the group enlisted State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, in its effort to get the state-owned bridge named for Stewart.

“We just thought it was a natural recognition,” Jerome said. “After all, Bob was in the forefront of getting the job done.”

In its own way, getting the bridge renamed was almost as arduous a task as getting it built.

“There were two approaches to getting it named,” Smith said. “One was to introduce a resolution in the General Assembly and have it passed by both houses. We tried that step, but we simply ran out of time during the session.”

The second was much more direct. Smith discussed the matter several times with Pence, who authorized a study by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“It was a pretty drawn-out process,” Smith said. “In fact, the whole experience has taught me a lesson. I plan to introduce in the next legislative session a bill that would give local governments the right to name or rename state bridges within their jurisdiction without having to go through state offices.

“The local governments would have to underwrite all of the costs associated with such a step, but they would at least have the freedom to name it what they wanted.”

Getting the bridge built was no simple task, either.

The bridge design was one of the elements in the Front Door project that leaders in both the public and private sectors saw as a means to create an attractive entrance to the city from the west. Ironically, the original concept had as its centerpiece the arched overpass on Interstate 65 over State Road 46.

The Second Street Bridge, which was one of the last elements in the Front Door project to be completed, had to clear a number of funding and design hurdles.

“We needed major funding from the federal government, and we used a bipartisan approach in obtaining the needed money,” Stewart said. “Lee Hamilton (a Democrat and the former 9th District representative in Congress) was asked to get support for the project in the House of Representatives, and I worked with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., on getting support in the Senate. We also received some tremendous help from Sen. Robert Garton, R-Columbus, when he was serving as president pro tem of the Indiana Senate.”

The necessary funding was obtained, but design problems forced state officials to reject the original concept, which called for a significant elevation on the bridge floor that, when reached, would have offered motorists a panoramic view of the downtown.

That elevation was lowered in the second design, but the result has accomplished what the original visionaries had hoped: a majestic view of the downtown centered on the historic Bartholomew County Courthouse.

That has delighted Stewart, who said, “You can see that bridge from miles away; and, when you get on it, it serves as a welcome to the city and our architecture.”

A formal ceremony to recognize the bridge’s name change will be scheduled.

About Bob Stewart

Bartholomew County native

Graduate of Columbus High School and Franklin College

Served as chairman of the Bartholomew County, 9th District and Indiana Republican committees

Was first three-term mayor of Columbus, serving from 1984-96

Major achievements in his administration included: Front Door Project, Focus 2000 Committee, Ethnic Expo, the Scottish Festival, an economic development effort that brought thousands of new jobs to the city, the Farm Progress show

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