- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

MADISON, Ind. (AP) - A jet boat that normally takes people on Ohio River thrill rides is being used to ferry commuters at the site of the closed bridge between Madison, Ind., and Milton, Ky.

The free ferry trips by Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides started Monday morning near where the U.S. 421 bridge has been closed since a March 11 accident that hurt a man working on the replacement bridge.

The weather was cool but the river was calm as the ferry trips started about 6:45 a.m. Monday, said Janet Harding, one of Rockin’ Thunder’s boat captains.

Area residents have faced driving about 25 miles to the closest alternate bridge since the closure while work continues on the new Milton-Madison Bridge, which highway officials expect to open in mid-April.

The Anderson Ferry Co. of Hebron, Ky., began providing service for emergency responders a day after the bridge closure, but residents had few options.

Paul Nicholson, another Rockin’ Thunder captain, said “Our phone just started ringing” with people hoping to catch a ride across the river to shorten their daily commute for work.

The ferry service began with one of the company’s two boats, which can hold 16 people, until volume of riders is known, he told The Madison Courier (http://bit.ly/1iRqgWj ).

“We foresee the time when we will be operating both boats,” Nicholson said. “We’ll commit to do this until the bridge reopens.”

The city of Madison is paying the ferry costs for now.

“With an extended delay, we knew something had to be done to help residents whose time and money is being pinched through this closing,” Madison Mayor Damon Welch said.

State highway officials from Indiana and Kentucky, who together are overseeing the bridge project, are in discussions with the city concerning the costs, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said.

Work began in late 2010 on a $100 million project to replace the old bridge. The new half-mile span is scheduled to be moved the week of April 6 from its temporary supports across steel rails onto rehabilitated piers of the previous bridge.

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Information from: The Madison Courier, http://www.madisoncourier.com