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Future of New Harmony Bridge in limbo as lawmakers propose solutions

The future of the New Harmony Bridge is still uncertain, as lawmakers work from both sides of the Wabash River towards an answer. 

But for now, if you want to cross the river from New Harmony, you'll need a boat. 

New Harmony business owner Sara Brown told Eyewitness News that she'd like to see the bridge open now. She owns Sara's New Harmony Way in the middle of town but lives in Illinois, and would love a shorter commute to work, for herself and her regulars. 

In fact, "main street" in this small town -- ends in barricades, a blocked bridge. 

The New Harmony toll bridge closed in 2012, and tacked on a significant amount of drive time for many people's daily activities between Indiana and Illinois. 

"The Mews had a lot of very, very good customers from across the river," says Brown. "And I can honestly say she's see a downturn in business."

"We did see a decrease in sales," says The Mews owner Annette Buckland. "Customers from particularly White County and the Carmi area came, but just not as often."

In fact, it's estimated that local stores lost 25%-30% of business once the bridge closed. 

The legal situation with this bridge, it is the only one in the nation in this legal status, so it's a very unfamiliar situation for anyone to know how to navigate or fix it," says New Harmony Way Bridge Project's Lora Arneberg.

Indiana State Senator Jim Tomes authored a bill to allow a five-person commission to manage the bridge. Governor Holcomb signed that bill earlier this year. 

Last week, Illinois State Senator Dale Righter proposed similar legislation. Eyewitness News attempted to contact Senator Righter, but have not heard back. 

Senator Tomes was not familliar with the proposed legislation on the Illinois side, but told Eyewitness News he "would be mystified if Illinois would be able to come forward right now, given their financial status."

Members of the community just want a conversation with lawmakers on both sides. 

"This is an interstate bridge, and this could be imagined in one option as a bi-state authority," says Arneberg. Having a conversation with politicians on the Illinois side would be really beneficial for everyone, but unfortunately we have not had that opportunity yet."

At the end of the day, it comes down to connection. 

"The two areas have things in common, and friendships were made on both sides of the river. So the bridge is the missing link," says Buckland. 

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(This story was originally published on May 7, 2018)

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