LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The price tag for a massive overhaul of the Sherman Minton Bridge has climbed since the project was announced nearly a year ago, a result of more work slated for the Interstate 64 corridor.

Indiana planning documents show a revised cost of $92 million, up from the $80 million officials cited in media accounts last fall. That amounts to a 15 percent increase.

The change is due to work that’s been added to ramps near the bridge in New Albany, Ind., said Harry Maginity, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation. The main focus remains replacing the Sherman Minton’s roadway, installing new beams and painting the 56-year old structure.

With tolls on three of the Louisville-area’s five Ohio River bridges, the toll-free Minton has become the region’s busiest crossing and now carries an estimated 90,000 vehicles per day. The rehabilitation project is expected to extend the bridge’s life until 2050, or by 30 years.

Maginity said more details about the status of the Indiana-led venture will be made public later this month.

In interviews last fall, Indiana officials said they anticipated a planned construction start in 2021. But Maginity indicated this week that a timeline for the project won’t be known until after the state moves into the bidding process – although it’s not known when that will happen.

Indiana plans a “best value” approach that will award the Sherman Minton contract based not only on price, but also on a construction plan that tries to limit road closures. The states used a similar strategy when replacing the Milton-Madison Bridge, awarding the contract to a company that proposed a 10-day shutdown; other bidders sought months-long closures.

Transportation officials suggested last year that the Sherman Minton could be shut down for more than seven months during the work.

“The idea of best value is to get the best deal for the motoring public,” Maginity said. “It’s a major inconvenience, obviously. But we’re going to try to minimize that the best we can.”

Indiana and Kentucky plan to share the cost of the Sherman Minton project, with each state funding improvements to approaches and other work within its borders, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The exact breakdown of the cost sharing hasn’t been finalized. 

Tolls won’t be used to pay for the project, Maginity said.

Timothy Saltsgaver, whose construction company is based in New Albany, said he hopes the bridge isn’t closed entirely during any part of the construction, but he agrees the work is needed.

Playing golf at Shawnee Golf Course near the bridge’s Kentucky approach in Louisville, Saltsgaver said he’s seen the span up close.

“It’s kind of scary just to walk under it, because the pillars – you can see all the rebar and you always just worry about something falling off,” he said.

Indiana abruptly closed the Sherman Minton to traffic in September 2011 after crews found a 2 ½-inch crack in a key horizontal beam made from a type of steel that was prone to such fractures.

After five months of repairs to strengthen load-bearing beams, it reopened in early 2012.

But since then, the bridge’s condition has gradually declined, according to inspection records obtained through public records requests.

To determine a bridge’s overall health, inspectors review three main elements – the superstructure, which supports the span's deck; the substructure, which includes abutments and piers; and the deck, or roadway.

The Sherman Minton has been rated in “fair” condition since 2013 – or 5 on a scale of 1-10 – since 2013, the reports show. During the most recent review, in 2017, inspectors downgraded the substructure, from “good” to “satisfactory.”

It was the lowest cumulative rating for the bridge since the structure's reopening.

Also last year, engineers performed seven special inspections in a three-month period after they made a “critical” finding near a beam that had cracked, and another one nearby that fractured.

Most recently, in June of 2018, a hole in the bridge deck forced Indiana to make emergency repairs. A photograph shows a gap in a roadway joint big enough to drop a football through.

The work caused traffic headed east on I-64 to back up for miles. The line of cars and trucks stretched from the Sherman Minton to the Georgetown exit in Floyd County.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.