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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After years of talk, discussions and even lawsuits, the long wait is over. Work on the new downtown Ohio River Bridge has begun. Tuesday's ceremonial groundbreaking signaled the official start of construction for the new $1.3 billion bridge.
The bridge, which will open in 2016, is part of the larger $2.5 billion dollar Ohio River Bridges Project that includes building an east end bridge and a revamping of Spaghetti Junction. Drivers and passerby will start to see the footprints of the new downtown bridge when heavy construction starts around July 8, said Max Rowland, the project manager with Walsh Construction.
"For 40 years, there's been a lot more talking than doing on the Ohio River Bridges. Today that changes," said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.
Mixed in with kids digging in sand piles, the handshakes and celebration among elected officials, is a reminder that this project has had its fair share of struggles. Just ask former Louisville Mayor and current Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson.
"Lots of lawsuits, lots of money issues. But the county kept saying we need an east end bridge, the city kept saying we need a downtown bridge, that held us back for years," Abramson told reporters Tuesday.
The federal highway administrator says it would take an act of Congress to steer more federal money to the $2.5 billion project.
"We are going to continue to work with the administration... we need a sustainable long term funding solution for the nation," said Victor Mendez, Federal Highway Administrator.
The cost of the project is being split between Indiana and Kentucky, with a portion being paid through tolls on drivers. The governor's focus on Tuesday was looking ahead not behind.
"You see these bridges are investments, they're investments in our communities, investments in our families," Beshear said during Tuesday announcement.
By mid-July, drivers will start to see the footprints of the bridge as Walsh construction crews work on both shores and the river.
"It's a huge undertaking it's a big project, it's one of the biggest project that will be going on in the U-S over next 3 to 4 years," said Max Rowland, Walsh Construction's project manager.
Rowland said the Ohio River Bridges Project is the largest project for Walsh Construction while serving as the primary contractor.
Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, took part in the groundbreaking along with other dignitaries such as Ky. Third District Congressman John Yarmuth, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, a former Louisville mayor who was a major supporter of the project.
Organizers gave out 500 commemorative toy shovels for children. They read, "I broke ground with Governor Beshear!" and were marked with the date. Buried in two sand piles were 500 keepsake tokens, with the logo of the Ohio River Bridges Project on one side, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the other.
"We think this is a date people will remember, and they're going to have these keepsakes to help them do that," spokeswoman for the Ohio River Bridges Project Mindy Peterson said.
The ceremonial groundbreaking kicked off the start of construction, which is set for July 1. On July 8, the eastbound I-64 ramp to southbound I-65 is going to be closed for 1,000 days -- basically the duration of the project.
"People are worried about traffic," said Andy Barber, Ky. Transportation Cabinet Project Manager. "They remember the Sherman Minton Bridge closure. How does this compare as far as road closures? This will be an impact in the downtown area. [The] biggest difference between this and the Sherman Minton closure is you'll have that open -- you'll have the Kennedy Bridge open, also have Clark Memorial Bridge open too, so you'll still have cross-river access."
Kentucky is responsible for paying for the Downtown Crossing. It's expected to cost more than $1.3 billion. Indiana is paying for the East End Crossing portion, which has an estimated price tag of $1.2 billion. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.
"Our plan is to build in all three locations," said Max Rowland of Walsh Construction. "We'll have crews in Kentucky. We'll also have crews building the river crossing, and we'll also have crews in the Indiana side, all working at once."