Community

Officials with the Sherman Minton Renewal project have put forth a plan that intends to limit the number of days of full closure while the bridge undergoes repairs.

A recommendation from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet calls for 54 days of full closure out of 843 total days of work. This would keep at least one lane of traffic open in both directions of Interstate 64 for roughly 94% of the project’s duration.

That 54-day period of full closure, however, would not be consecutive. Instead, there would be a cap set at nine consecutive days per year, with up to three additional three-day weekends of closure per direction annually.

Sherman Minton Renewal spokesperson Andrea Brady said the improvements will extend the service life to the bridge – which opened in 1962 – by replacing the decks of the main channel, approaches from the both sides of the Ohio River and structural steel. Cables and drainage systems will also be repaired, and the structure will be painted.

“This major rehabilitation project is really critical for the bridge,” Brady said. “The bridge has its original deck, which is 57 years old. The goal of this project is to add up to 30 years of service life to the bridge.”

A contractor is expected to be selected this winter, with construction to start in April 2021. It will take approximately three years to complete.

Residents and businesses in downtown New Albany are bracing for the effects of the closure. Bradley Fair, vice president of the merchant group Develop New Albany, said the new plan seems to be more reasonable than previous murmurings of a more extended full closure.

But any amount of limited access will likely hurt downtown vendors, he noted. When a crack in the bridge forced an emergency closure of several months in 2011, many businesses saw decreased revenue, with Fair noting that his former place of employment saw a nearly 40% cut in sales.

“I know the impact of the 2011 closure hit us to where we lost staff because they couldn’t get to work on time, and we lost customers from Louisville,” he said. “It was substantial enough to where we had to lay people off.”

The benefit of this planned closure is that businesses have time to prepare, Fair added. Of course, that isn’t the only difference this time around.

Businesses are also in the midst of unprecedented struggles caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak has caused months-long shutdowns, with limited capacities at restaurants and other public settings being permitted in recent weeks.

Fair said that a recent poll taken by Develop New Albany showed that a large portion of people still aren’t comfortable going out quite yet. Because of that, he would have liked to see officials push the project to a later date in order to give businesses time to recover from the economic losses that have been assessed so far, and that are likely to continue into next year.

Joe Phillips, owner of Pints & Union, believes New Albany will be uniquely impacted by the ongoing difficulties. Unlike nearby communities in Clark County, which has multiple bridges spanning the Ohio River, New Albany will lose its main artery to Louisville when the Sherman Bridge closes.

“It’s hard to see the immediate struggle and the struggle that’s going to come in the next six months to a year, and with the bridge now three years,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of community rallying and really trying to support one another after the initial loss. Some more of us are going to close, and then the bridge will close even more of us, I think.”

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