Southern Indiana

The Sherman Minton Renewal project has begun, and New Albany businesses are preparing for the construction.

Crews began reinforcing interstate ramps on alternate routes along Interstates 64, 65 and 265 around the Sherman Minton Bridge last week. The next steps are repainting the bridge and replacing its decks, which should start next month.

The bridge carries traffic on I-64 between Indiana and Kentucky and is the only passage for vehicles over the Ohio River into New Albany. Merchants in New Albany have expressed concerns that traffic delays and closures could deter customers coming from Louisville.

But Schmitt Furniture owner Louis Schmitt said he and his peers are ready for the challenge.

“When we get the information, we’re going to advertise the best time to shop,” he said. “And we’re going to help get that information out to the downtown merchants, the smaller shops, the restaurants, to let them know that, you know, you may have to stay open in the evening. You may have to stay open on weekends.”

Schmitt said business owners were blindsided by the unexpected closure in 2011, deemed “Shermageddon.” But this time around, he hopes the long-term planning will make the closures less financially harmful.

Another difference is New Albany’s growth over the last decade. Back then, Schmitt said the city was in the midst of a revitalization. Now, downtown is on much more solid footing, but it’s important for merchants to lean on each other for support.

“Communication is everything,” he said. “Banding together and working it out is vital. Don’t go through it alone. Get a hold of people that you know believe in what you believe in and what you need to survive, so you can serve everyone [and] be open for business.”

Brigid Morrissey, owner of the co-working space The Root, agreed with Schmitt about downtown New Albany’s resilience, and said merchants have already proven their toughness by making it through the pandemic. But she said she’ll look for ways to adjust to any potential effects.

Many of The Root’s members already come from Indiana, and Morrissey is looking at ways to pivot the business’s event programming to attract more Hoosiers.

“One thing that has been very successful, even through the pandemic, was our ‘Heart Behind the Art’ program,” she said. “That is tapping into the local and somewhat underground arts community in southern Indiana anyways, so we were already trying to highlight what’s going on in Indiana.”

The Sherman Minton Renewal project is expected to take 843 days, including 54 days of full closure. Officials say the $137 million project will add 30 years of life to the bridge, which opened in 1962.

This week, project officials invited the public to participate in the “Guess the Gallons” contest. Six winners who submit the closest estimate of how much paint it will take to coat the bridge will receive $100 gift cards to participating restaurants in downtown New Albany and Louisville’s West End.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.