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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The Ohio River Bridges Project received a big boost Wednesday, as the federal government approved a plan expected to save $1.5 billion and cut construction time in half.
Gary Valentine with the Kentucky Department of Transportation says, "This was a major hurdle we got by today and now tolling agreement will be next along with the major project financial plan. We don't see those as hurdles." He says both of those items to be resolved in the next 30 to 60 days.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer came up with the plan in January of last year. It involves rebuilding Spaghetti Junction in its current location rather than moving it, simplifying the interstate connections to the I-65 bridge downtown, and reducing the East End crossing from six lanes to four.
"After decades of discussion and debate, the Ohio River Bridges Project is about to become a reality," Gov. Beshear said in a news release. Gov. Daniels called the decision "another important step for the two states on this long awaited project."
Mayor Fischer said, "It's now time to build these bridges, and today's decision clears the way for construction to begin."
The federal decision was required because of changes in the construction plan and because bridge tolls were added to the project. The Bridges Project is expected to cost $2.6 billion, and is set to break ground in August.
Valentine says, "We've been able to cut the project cost by $1.5 billion dollars down to $2.6 billion and we're hitting the ground running."
The savings come from rebuilding the downtown interchange in its current location, simplifying the interstate connections to the downtown I-65 bridge and reducing the East End Crossing from six to four lanes while providing options for future expansion.
Both states plan to award contracts before the end of the year. An August groundbreaking is expected for the $5.5 million road extension that will ultimately connect to the East end bridge.
State officials estimate the six-year project to be one of the largest in the nation. Fischer says, "4100 jobs a year for architects, engineers, steel workers, laborers and on and on. It means jobs for the futures as well."
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will oversee the downtown Louisville portion. It will increase I-65 from eight to 12 lanes, build a new bridge with approaches and it will reconstruct the Kennedy Interchange where I-64, I-65 and I-71 come together.
The Indiana Department of Transportation will oversee construction of the East End Crossing, spanning the river between Prospect, Kentucky and Utica, Indiana. The project includes building a new State Road-265 East End crossing that includes a new bridge over the Ohio River and a tunnel connecting to the I-265 Gene Snyder Freeway.