Governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana, left, and Steve Beshear of 
Kentucky, attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new bridge connecting Madison and Milton.  (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana, left, and Steve Beshear of Kentucky, attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new bridge connecting Madison and Milton. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Bipartisan cooperation were the bywords Tuesday as local, state and national transportation officials handed out praise for Indiana and Kentucky getting to the official start of replacing the Madison-Milton bridge.

The ceremonial groundbreaking was moved from the riverfront to Brown Gym because of rain, so instead of turning over dirt, a large banner was unveiled. It has a picture of the bridge and the slogan "Move that bridge!"

About 300 people attended the ceremony, where U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong spoke.

"This project has all the earmarks for being the poster child for how to do things right for the Federal Highway Administration," Michael Hancock, commissioner of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said at a lunch after the ceremony.

LaHood, who was in Madison in February for the official announcement of a federal grant for 19 percent of the cost, said Tuesday that the effort to get a new bridge has been bipartisan. He is a former Republican congressman from Illinois whom Democratic President Barack Obama appointed transportation secretary 20 months ago.

"There are no Democratic or Republican bridges in America," LaHood said. He called the Madison-Milton bridge replacement a "long, long overdue project."

In addition to a new bridge, the project will provide jobs, and they will be good-paying jobs, similar to how the current bridge provided work at a time when the U.S. economy was struggling. The bridge was dedicated Dec. 20, 1929.

Daniels said that this was his 21st trip to Jefferson County as governor, and on every trip the need for the bridge accounted for at least five minutes of conversation.

"It can be frustrating many times making government work well ... making levels of government to work together," Daniels said. "You and your work are not like that."

Daniels said there probably will be more Indiana and Kentucky projects.

"I predict on future occasions our two states will show America how it's done," he said.

Beshear said that Daniels was the first person to walk up to him when Beshear attended his first national governors meeting shortly after taking office in 2008. At the time, Daniels was starting his second term.

Daniels, Beshear said, told him, "We need to talk," and so they got together at the governors gathering and talked about their two states' mutual concerns. Daniels is a Republican, while Beshear is a Democrat.

"I could not have a better working partner than Governor Daniels of Indiana," Beshear said.

LaHood praised the two governors. "These two governors decided very early-on they wanted to be part of making progress in their states," said LaHood, adding that Beshear and Daniels are "extraordinary leaders."

LaHood said the catalyst for getting funding for the Madison-Milton bridge replacement was U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., who was in the audience. Hill was defeated for re-election last month, so his tenure in Congress will end at the end of this month.

"We would not be here today if it was not for Baron Hill calling me ... and he said we need to jump-start this project," said LaHood, who got to know Hill when LaHood was in Congress. They played basketball together sometimes, though LaHood said he was no match for Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Hill.

LaHood told about the ride to Brown Gym from Madison Municipal Airport in a car with Hill, Daniels and Beshear. "Guess what we were talking about," he said. A couple of people in the audience knew right away and shouted out, "Basketball." They were right.

Armstrong was the master of ceremonies for the event at the gym.

"It's so nice to see people working together and what can be accomplished when people work together, especially two states," Armstrong told the audience.

Indiana and Kentucky will split the $83 million cost not covered by the $20 million federal grant. The officials speaking Tuesday frequently referred to three unusual aspects about the new bridge: The bids came in $21 million lower than the pre-bid cost estimate; traffic won't be able to get across the Ohio River at Madison or Milton for a total of 10 days instead of the 365 days estimated before bids; and Walsh Construction will build the new steel superstructure on the ground and then pull it onto the existing but enlarged piers.

The audience for the ceremony included U.S. Rep.-elect Todd Young, R-Ind.; Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline; new Indiana state Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown; Indiana state Rep. Dave Cheatham, D-North Vernon; Kentucky state Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford; Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens; Milton Mayor Denny Jackson; Madison City Council members Jim Lee, Darrell Henderson and Pete Backus; Federal Highway Administration administrator for Indiana Robert F. Tally Jr.; FHWA administrator for Kentucky Jose Sepulveda; Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency executive director Jack Couch; former Madison Mayor Al Huntington; former state Rep. Billy Bright; former Madison Mayor and former state Rep. Markt Lytle; and members of the Project Advisory Group.

There also were consultants who have been or will be working on the bridge project, and people who work for the bridge construction team; INDOT and Kentucky Transportation officials and employees; and 21 freshmen and sophomores from Trimble County High School.

They are in Teen Leadership Trimble and were going to be in Madison anyway on Tuesday to visit businesses, said Carla Goins, the gifted- education coordinator at the high school.

After the banner had been unveiled and the ceremony was over, Trimble County officials talked about what it all meant.

Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens said it's great to see the hard work of so many people come together.

"I've got a permanent smile on my face," he said. "It can rain on the ground but it cannot dampen our excitement on this project."

Stevens pointed out the Trimble County road crew was all in attendance at the ceremony.

"This community takes ownership of its infrastructure," he said.

Jackson said it was a fantastic day.

"This is the day I thought we, on both sides of the river, never thought they would see," Jackson said.

Rand had worked to try to get funding for a new bridge since he was elected in 1991. Rand is excited to see the construction starting on the bridge.

"It's almost surreal, actually," he said.

Also afterward, Lytle recalled that when he was the Madison mayor and Couch was the judge-executive in Trimble County, they started laying groundwork for a new bridge soon after construction was halted on what was to be a nuclear power plant at Marble Hill. The closing caused unemployment to jump from 8.3 percent to 24.5 percent in one month, said Lytle, who was mayor from 1984 to 1987.

He said he and Couch tried to woo an automotive-glass factory to the area, but were turned down because of the bridge, which the glass factory trucks would be too heavy to use. The factory was built in Georgetown instead, he said.

After he became a state legislator, he said, the bridge efforts continued with Al Huntington in the mayor's office.

The invitation-only lunch afterward at the Livery Stable was paid for by two of the bridge consulting groups, Wilbur Smith Associates and Michael Baker Jr. Inc.

The celebrating continued Tuesday night with music, displays of children's artwork and the showing of a short film recorded at the dedication in 1929, a video of the groundbreaking ceremony earlier in the day, and a display of pictures drawn and words written about the bridge by local children.

Tonight, there will be an open house at City Hall where Walsh Construction's project manager, Charlie Gannon, will have visual displays of the bridge project and will answer questions. It will be from 5 to 8 p.m. The Madison Area Chamber of Commerce will be having its monthly after-hours gathering at the same time at City Hall, but the public is invited to the free event.