Downtown bridge expected to open ahead of schedule next year - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Downtown bridge expected to open ahead of schedule next year

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A new Interstate 65 bridge between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., is on pace to open three months ahead of schedule, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Friday.

Opening the span in January 2016 will allow more time for a $22 million "in-depth renovation" of the aging Kennedy Bridge, Beshear said at a news conference at Waterfront Park.

"In recent weeks we made the decision to invest in a more complete and long-lasting overhaul of the Kennedy Bridge," Beshear said.

The state decided to replace the steel stringers -- beams supporting the 52-year-old bridge's deck, or roadway – after inspections last year, Beshear said. The resulting work, coupled with the new crossing, will lead to "two stronger, safer bridges for decades to come,” the governor said.

Walsh Construction project manager Max Rowland said stringers will be replaced along the entire 2,500-foot length of the Kennedy. Some floor beams also will be repaired, he said.

“When they did their review and looked, some of the stringers were starting to show their age,” Rowland said.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet didn't immediately provide copies of the Kennedy's most recent inspection reports, which WDRB News requested Friday under the state's open records law.

The Kennedy carries more than 100,000 vehicles a day and has suffered from broken bolts, cracks and other signs of stress and aging. Reviews during the past decade found the condition of the bridge's stringers varied – from “good” in 2007 to “fair” in 2010, for example.

Inspectors noted “moderate corrosion and minor pitting and section loss” in stringers under joints that expand and contract due to weather in 2010.

The cost of replacing the stringer beams will come from a project contingency fund, Beshear said.

As originally planned, traffic would be moved to the new bridge while the Kennedy is repaired. Once the full $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project is complete late next year, the new bridge will carry I-65 North, while I-65 South will use the Kennedy.

Plans call for the Kennedy to close for about six months, and traffic headed south on the new bridge would be detoured to I-64 and I-71 for much of 2016.

Drivers also would use the new bridge without tolls for much of the year.

Tolls now are set to begin in January 2017, but Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said tolling could start sooner if construction finishes earlier.

Work on both segments of the project – the downtown portion being overseen by Kentucky and the Indiana-led upriver span -- is more than 50 percent complete, Kentucky's project manager Andy Barber said earlier this week.

Speaking Tuesday, Barber said the state has paid out more than $500 million of Chicago-based Walsh Construction's $860 million contract for the downtown work, which includes the new bridge, the revamped Kennedy and a reconfigured Spaghetti Junction interchange, where I-64, I-65 and I-71 converge near downtown.

Rather than toll booths, the spans will have equipment that photographs cars' license plates and reads mounted transponders. Kentucky and Indiana are aiming to select the company that will operate the toll system next month.

That contract is one of the final pieces of a project that dates to the 1960s, when regional leaders first recommended a bridge near Prospect, Ky.

In his remarks Friday, Beshear took a jab at a common refrain from residents of Louisville and Southern Indiana since then.

“I still remember hearing several folks say, ‘This bridge will never be built in my lifetime,'” Beshear recalled. “Well, if they can just hang on one more year they're going to see this bridge built in their lifetime.”

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