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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - The closure of the Sherman Minton bridge connecting Louisville to New Albany has many people wondering about the nature of the crack inspectors found late last week.
Will Wingfield with the Indiana Department of Transportation says the bridge wasn't closed on the basis of a single crack.
"With this bridge in particular, it's kind of the unique combination of not just any one element, but many -- it's the design, the construction and the materials," Wingfield said. "And all of those sort of create the concern that led us to close the bridge."
Wingfield continued: "If you take any one of them alone, they could be manageable through maintenance and inspection. But when you combine them all together it creates a set of conditions where even a small crack could pose a very large concern."
The National Transportation Safety Administration noted cracks in the bridge's superstructure earlier this year, which prompted additional inspections that led to the decision to close the bridge.
"The crack that was discovered late last week was actually uncovered," Wingfield said. "We removed a portion that was previously not visible to inspectors and as a result, that's what led to the closure of the bridge. We would not have been able to essentially view that crack unless we were doing maintenance and retrofit work on the bridge."
Wingfield says the problems that prompted Gov. Mitch Daniels to shut down the bridge weren't discovered until Sept. 8, one day before officials announced it would be closed indefinitely.
Since the Kennedy and Clark Memorial bridges must now carry the additional 80,000 vehicles a day that normally use the Sherman Minton bridge, some people are wondering if the aging spans can handle the extra load.
Wingfield says they can.
"I've been working very closely with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, who inspects and maintains those two bridges," Wingfield said. "They feel confident that the bridges can handle the different load. They're designed very differently ... they have some additional redundancy built in that the Sherman Minton just doesn't have. By redundancy I mean if one element has a problem, there's others that can kind of help support it."
Traffic on the Second Street and Kennedy bridges moved smoothly for the most part Tuesday, with most of the backups occurring in southern Indiana as drivers tried to reach the bridges.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Andrea Clifford told us Indiana officials are planning to widen some entrance ramps to alleviate those problems.
"The Indiana Department of Transportation has had this plan in place all along that they want to widen the ramps from 64 East to 265 East and then 265 East to 65 South," Clifford said.
According to Clifford, Indiana officials hope to complete that project in the next few days.
"They are going to have to pave some additional asphalt, do some striping," Clifford said. "They hope to have that in place by the end of this week because 65 seems to be the biggest bottleneck that we have."
Officials on both sides of the river implemented additional traffic changes Tuesday, including requiring drivers from the 3rd Street ramp of I-64 West to turn right and use Fourth or Sixth Streets to get into downtown.
Drivers who use River Road headed west into downtown must turn left onto 3rd Street.
Authorities praised the reversible "third lane" used on the Clark Memorial Bridge to help more traffic travel south into Louisville in the morning and travel north into Indiana in the afternoon.
However, they are adding parking restrictions near West Main and South Second Streets in Louisville at the foot of the bridge.
Crews were to install more-tightly-spaced plastic pylons along the far right lane of I-65 southbound on the Kennedy bridge to keep Spaghetti Junction drivers in their lane and prevent other drivers from late "lane jumping" just prior to the I-64 & I-71 exit into Spaghetti Junction.
Drivers broke several of those on Monday, workers said.
Clifford says Tuesday's traffic flow seemed somewhat improved over Monday's. "I've seen a lot more movement on the Kennedy bridge, some of the delays in southern Indiana are still the same. It's pretty good."
Clifford says it could have been a lot worse, and advises drivers who have experienced long delays to keep trying alternate routes. "You can always go back and try your original route in a few days after things kind of calm down and shake out and everybody's found their own pattern."
According to Clifford, the Trimarc traffic cams had "4.7 million hits on it." She says that's a good way to keep up to date on the traffic situation.