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A Worker on the Ohio River Bridges Project Talks Heights

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Carl Waters doesn't spend his workday gazing at the passing current of the Ohio River.

In fact, a glance down at the river can be a precarious peek.

"It'll make you a little dizzy," he said.

Waters is a carpenter and one of hundreds of crew members working on the soon-to-be-completed I-65 bridge connecting Indiana and Kentucky. His task takes him hundreds of feet above the river, where dizziness is not a desirable feeling.

He's helped bring the tower nearest the Indiana shore from below the water's surface to the 230 feet it stands today. The tallest tower, which will stand at 280 feet, will sit in the middle of the river.

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On Monday, officials celebrated the topping off of the first tower. And Waters was there to tell his story.

Despite the constant pull of gravity and the "potential to fall everywhere you go," he said he doesn't get nervous way up there.

Waters, of Charlestown, Ind., started his carpentry career on the ground, but has been working at great heights for about a decade. His father does it, his brother, too. He'd like his own son to take up the job one day.

A member of the Local 175 carpenter's union, Waters' face is reddened by the wind that constantly blows hundreds of feet above the river.

Earlier this year, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshearinvested an additional $22 million to accelerate work on the bridges.

Andy Barber, project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said they're on tap for a December 2016 completion. That's right on schedule, he said.

The new bridge should be ready for traffic by January 2016, according to Barber. Then, traffic will be diverted to the new bridge and improvements will be made to the existing Kennedy bridge.

To stay on schedule, workers like Waters pull into the jobsite before 6 a.m., strapping on a harness and hardhat before sunrise. He scales hundreds of steps to his perch high in the sky, where he takes his lunch and his breaks.

The "nice" view has given him glimpses of drifting couches, refrigerators and other oddities in the surging Ohio River.

After a shift of about 12, sometimes 16 hours, he'll descend the tower and call it a day.

The next day, he'll do it all over again.

"It's not hard to get motivated when you love your job," he said.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.