CROSSING THE RIVER: Paul Nicholson, of Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides, takes passengers from Milton, Ky., to Madison on Monday afternoon. The company working with the city of Madison to provide passage across the Ohio River while the Madison-Milton bridge is closed. (Staff photo by Seth Grundhoefer/sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
CROSSING THE RIVER: Paul Nicholson, of Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides, takes passengers from Milton, Ky., to Madison on Monday afternoon. The company working with the city of Madison to provide passage across the Ohio River while the Madison-Milton bridge is closed. (Staff photo by Seth Grundhoefer/sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
Jan Powell had to drive an extra three hours from her home to work each day for the last three weeks after the emergency closure of the Madison-Milton bridge.

The detour to Markland Locks and Dam Bridge turned Powell's short commute across the bridge from Madison to Milton, Ky., into a 90-minute drive each way. The route proved to be costly, too.

"It was costing me $75 a week (in gas)," she said.

She had to fill up her vehicle at least twice more than she usually did to make the drive to the King's Daughters' Health medical building in Milton, where she is a nurse practitioner.

Now, she is finding relief with others who must cross the river every day.

A new ferry service began Monday to transport people across the river at no charge.

On its first day, 283 people used the shuttle.

The river crossing shuttle also decreases the daily commute of Frank McCane, who works in Bedford, Ky., as a network administrator for Trimble County Schools.

He had been getting a boat ride across the river each morning from Madison dentist Bob Canida over the last couple of weeks prior to the shuttle service provided by the City of Madison and Rockin' Thunder Jet Boats.

McCane previously arranged to trade cars during the day with a friend who lives on the opposite side of the river but works in Madison, so that the two could have transportation waiting on the opposite side of the river.

Powell and McCane were just two of dozens of people who ventured to the boat docks in near- freezing temperatures Monday morning to catch a ride to the other side of the river.

The shuttle takes just a few minutes each way after passengers sign the manifest, put on a life vest and board the Rockin' Thunder jet boat.

Boat captain Janet Harding said several people came down to the docks and were waiting for rides across the river Monday before the shuttle service was set to begin at 7 a.m.

"Most of them are so grateful," Harding said.

The riders' purpose for crossing the river - and the weather - had changed significantly by noon on Monday. Instead of employees going to work, more riders were stepping aboard the jet boat to go shopping or to visit family on the opposite side of the river.

Leisa Streight of North Vernon was able to made her usual trip to Milton businesses because of the shuttle service.

She drives down once a month to buy cigarettes in Kentucky.

Matthew Thorn and Tania Huffman took their two-year-old daughter, Olivia, for her first boat ride to visit a family member who lives in Milton.

The Madison family hadn't visited their Milton relative since the bridge closure because of the lengthy detour.

The shuttle will run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday - rain or shine. The service will not be available on Saturday or Sunday.

Captains plan to make trips between the Madison and Milton boat docks as needed each day, Harding said. Rides will be given on a first-come, first-served basis, and no reservations will be taken for the shuttle.

Officials ask people to remember the service is for people who need to cross the river for jobs, doctor appointments and other necessary transportation.

Passengers arriving at the Milton boat dock station might need to call for pickup, as the boat will be based at the Madison dock. Captains may be contacted at (812) 701-1155.

Any changes to the shuttle schedule will be posted on the Rockin' Thunder website at www.rockinthunder.com and on the Rockin' Thunder Facebook page.