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Early Opening Of Downtown Bridge Means Little For Your Commute

Ohio River Bridges Project

The early opening of a new interstate bridge in downtown Louisville isn't expected to end construction of the larger downtown Ohio River bridge project any sooner than originally projected.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced on Monday that crews were on track to complete construction of the new bridge by Christmas. Beshear had previously said he anticipated the new span to be completed by January.

But the completion of the new bridge is just one element to the larger downtown crossing venture, said Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for the project.

The contractor working on the project, Walsh Construction Co., is also responsible for an expansive renovation of the Kennedy Bridge and improvements to the interstate junctions on the Kentucky and Indiana sides of the Ohio River, she said.

"So, basically, we still have another year-plus of construction ahead of us," she said.

That means Louisville-area motorists will be dealing with lane closures and other headaches of road work well into 2016.

The earlier-than-expected completion of the bridge, however, will give crews more time to work on the Kennedy Bridge, Peterson said.

In January, Beshear said the Kennedy Bridge would undergo a “more complete and long-lasting overhaul.” He said an inspection of the Kennedy showed that it would be a "smart choice" to replace all steel stringers — or beams — that support the concrete road deck of the 52-year-old bridge.

On Monday, Peterson said the expansion of the Kennedy renovations means that the early opening of the new bridge will not affect the completion of the overall project.

"We're not accelerating the overall timeline at all," she said.

Once completed,  the new downtown bridge and the revamped Kennedy Bridge will each carry six lanes of one-direction traffic.

Perhaps the most complicated aspect of the project will be reworking Spaghetti Junction in downtown Louisville.

During a visit to Louisville in January, Beshear pledged to invest an additional $22 million to ensure a speedy completion of the project.

The hard deadline for the downtown bridges project's overall completion is Dec. 9, 2016. As part of its contract, Walsh will get $40,000 for each day ahead of schedule that the project is completed. The early-completion incentive is capped at $12 million (300 days), Peterson said. If Walsh completes the project behind schedule, the company will have to pay $80,000 a day with no payment cap.

"Those incentives are tied to the completion of the entire project," she said.

The Ohio River Bridges Project, which also includes a new East End span, is expected to cost $2.6 billion. Tolls planned for the downtown, Kennedy and East End bridges will not be collected until the entire project is complete.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.