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The New Downtown Ohio River Bridge Will Be Opening Early

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear admits that he was wrong about a year and a half ago when he said the vehicles would be traveling across a new Interstate 65 bridge in three years.

"But this time, it's a good thing that I was wrong," he said.

The bridge will in fact open three months ahead of schedule, in January 2016, Beshear announced Friday at Waterfront Park.

Since the project is ahead of schedule, Beshear said he made a decision to invest an additional $22 million into the project to "accelerate construction" and enable crews to conduct a more extensive renovation of the existing Kennedy Bridge.

He said he made that decision based on advice from Kentucky transportation officials.

The additional funding will come from a "contingency fund for unanticipated expenses already in the budget for the downtown crossing."

He added the cost of the accelerated construction efforts will not affect the cost of tolls to be paid by motorists crossing the bridges.

Repairs and a resurfacing of the Kennedy have been planned since the project began, Beshear said. But Beshear decision for a "more complete and long lasting overhaul of the Kennedy Bridge" was made after inspections last year revealed a "smart choice" would be to replace all steel stringers—or beams—that support the concrete road deck of the 52-year-old bridge, he added.

"Completing the work now will save money and reduce impact on drivers longterm," he said.

But he added that the decision to conduct more extensive work on the Kennedy will have a more lasting impact on motorists.

As in the initial plans, the Kennedy will shut down for about six months during the renovation, Beshear said. That means all interstate traffic, northbound and southbound, will shift to the new downtown bridge once it is complete.

"Detours will be necessary for I-65 southbound motorists heading to I-64 and I-71," he added.

Once the Kennedy Bridge renovations are complete, the bridge will carry I-65 south bound traffic, while northbound I-65 traffic will use the newly constructed downtown bridge.

Despite the change of plans, the entire project is not expected to fall behind schedule, Beshear added. Both bridges and all interstate connections are set to open in December 2016.

Tolls won't be enforced on the new downtown crossing bridge during the renovation of the Kennedy Bridge. All tolls will begin at the same time, in January 2017, Beshear said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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