Over the next several weeks, construction on the Ohio River Bridges Project will accelerate.
Here’s what the Louisville area needs to know about where this project has been, where it stands now and what is to be expected in the future.
Kentucky and Indiana officials broke ground Wednesday on the East End section of what will be a years-long overhaul to the region’s interstate system. What comes next will be more workers taking to the sites, traffic changes, final decisions on tolling and more.
Background: The decade-in-the-making Ohio River Bridges Project solidified last year with several logistical decisions being approved for the then-estimated $2.6 billion plan.
The cost will be split between Indiana and Kentucky.
Indiana awarded the contract for building a new East End Bridge to WVB East End Partners, which will design, build and maintain the bridge after completion.
Kentucky awarded its contract to Walsh Construction last year and the contractor group will be responsible for designing and building a new northbound I-65 bridge that parallels the Kennedy Bridge, and will also rework Spaghetti Junction.
Traffic: The project’s most cumbersome change to Louisville traffic will be in Spaghetti Junction.The ramp from eastbound Interstate 64 to southbound Interstate 65 closes on July 1. It isn’t expected to open again for 1,000 days—that’d be March 27, 2016. Or so. Project officials suggest that eastbound I-64 motorists use Interstate 264 as an alternative route, where applicable.
Law and Preservation:
- A settlement was reached in January with River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a lawsuit they filed challenging the environmental impact statement. The settlement included a $1.7 million trust (the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation split the cost), which can be used for future preservation projects. You can read the settlement here.
- The Indiana Department of Transportation has begun to move five historic homes in Jeffersonville. INDOT purchased the properties and agreed to move them (a cost of $612,000), preferably within Jeffersonville’s historic district. The homes will be sold at auction after they are moved, with stipulations that their historical structures remain intact.
- There are at least five additional historical homes near the Big Four Bridge that are included in the aforementioned settlement with River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These homes are given preferable consideration for grants provided by the $1.7 million trust.
- An ongoing lawsuit filed by Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART) last fall is challenging the economic and environment benefits of the Bridges Project. You can read the complaint here.
- In March 2012, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet reached an agreement regarding the Drumanard Estate and agreed to pay $8.3 million to construct an approach to the East End Bridge underneath the property. The agreement included placing a preservation easement on the property, which protects the property against certain development or indirect deterioration.
Tolls: Tolls have been one of the larger Bridges Project controversies. Last year, a joint-state board was formed to decide and approve what tolling should look like. As it stands now—and what’s been estimated since the first time we discussed what tolls could cost—there will be a tiered system. For commuters in cars, SUVs and other passenger vehicles using electronic transponders devices the cost would be $1 to cross. Tolls for others would be $2, with panel trucks paying $5 and tractor trailers paying $10.
Tolls would not start until the first new bridge is completed in 2016 and they are expected to remain in place at least until the bridges are paid off. Officials have said the rates could be adjusted as needed.
Officials say there are still “commitments” the tolling body needs to complete before tolls are final. These include things like public comment periods—which have occurred—and continuing to provide certain information and documentation regarding financial implications, a spokesman told WFPL.
Downtown Bridge: Construction is scheduled to begin July 1 and should be completed in April 2016, around one-and-a-half years ahead of the projected completion date. At that time the new northbound I-65 bridge will be used as a two-way bridge will the Kennedy Bridge is fixed up through the rest of the year. Both bridges are expected to be in full operation by 2017. Pre-construction work has already been underway, including the removal of buildings, testing and surveys.
East End Bridge: Pre-construction has been ongoing and with the ground breaking today, officials say WVB East End Partners will be able to begin construction in full next week. The bridge is expected to be completed in October 2016.