By BRADEN LAMMERS
Commuters beware: The closures related to the Ohio River Bridges Project that have been talked about for months will soon become a reality.
The longest closures of the project are set to go into effect Monday, July 15, and will remain in place for about three years. The ramp from Interstate 64 east to Interstate 65 south will be closed for that duration, and I-65 will be reduced from three lanes to two from the Jefferson Street ramp to Muhammad Ali Boulevard starting Monday through 2016.
To prepare for the Interstate 64 east to Interstate 65 south ramp closure, project planners began a series of preparatory closures Monday night.
The overnight closures included the left lane of I-65 south from the Kennedy Bridge to Muhammad Ali Boulevard, which will be closed from 9 p.m. Monday, July 8, to 5 a.m. Tuesday, July 9; and the left lane of I-65 north from Muhammad Ali Boulevard to the Kennedy Bridge will be closed from 9 p.m. Monday, July 8, to 5 a.m. Tuesday, July 9.
Beginning Tuesday evening, the left lane of the ramp from I-64 west to I-65 south will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 10; and the right lane of I-65 south at the Jefferson Street exit ramp, and the left lane of the exit ramp, will be closed from 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, to 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 10.
But among the most immediate and significant traffic changes will be a series of lane closures to the I-65 Kennedy Bridge occurring over two weeks in July.
When the I-64 eastbound ramp to I-65 southbound ramp closes for an estimated 1,000 days, lanes will also be closing on southbound I-65. Chad Carlton, spokesman for the Ohio River Bridges Project, said the far right lane on the Kennedy Bridge will be closed starting Monday.
According to a press release, Walsh Design Build Team will be inspecting the Kennedy Bridge to finalize design plans for the redecking work slated to take place in 2016.
Carlton said despite a previous plan to conduct the inspections during off-peak hours, to maximize the amount of daylight, the Walsh team will be doing inspections during the day. He added that motorists will still be able access the exit ramps off of the Kennedy Bridge to I-71 northbound and I-64 westbound.
The closure is expected to limit traffic to two lanes for about a week southbound, and starting July 19, a transition will take place to move from the southbound portion of the bridge to northbound I-65. During the transition, which could begin as early as the evening of July 19, northbound bridge traffic will be limited to one lane, Carlton said. Only one lane will be open northbound during the July 19-21 weekend, but starting Monday, July 22, two northbound bridge lanes will be open.
The inspection and the lane closures are expected to end by July 26.
However, all of this is weather dependent, Carlton said.
Construction crews will use the I-64 east to I-65 south ramp as a staging point for work in Spaghetti Junction and taking out a lane weave will help keep traffic moving through the interchange, officials said at a press conference Monday.
There are 40 bridges comprising Spaghetti Junction that have to be widened, replaced or constructed, said Max Rowland, project manager with Walsh Construction.
“Closing that ramp allows for the maintenance of traffic,” said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manger Andy Barber.
He explained that the ramp has traffic merging from I-64 east to I-65 southbound, as well as traffic traveling from I-64 westbound.
“There’s a pinch point there,” Barber said. “We’re taking out that conflict so it makes traffic move easier.”
The fewer lane weaves and merges that exist, the smoother traffic will flow through the junction. And the reason that the I-64 east to I-65 south ramp was chosen was because it is the least traveled of the ramps in Spaghetti Junction.
Barber said, at the last traffic count, 8,000 vehicles use the ramp per day.
“There’s also an easy detour ... [using] I-264 for traffic that would normally be taking the route,” he said.
For commuters that travel the route to access downtown Louisville, Barber said those drivers will be directed to use the Ninth Street exit.
LESSONS LEARNED, HEADACHES UNAVOIDABLE
Barber said the traffic patterns being implemented may change, but transportation planners are using lessons learned during the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge closure that began in September 2011 and lasted through February 2012.
“We’ve committed to having two lanes of interstate traffic running at all times,” Barber said.
By limiting the closures and diverting a large portion of the traffic that would pass through the area, planners are hoping to avoid major delays.
“But a big thing during this project is that the Sherman Minton won’t be closed and the Kennedy won’t be closed ... and the Clark Memorial will remain open for a large majority of the project,” Barber said. “You have more cross-river opportunity than you did with the Sherman Minton closure.”
The Clark Memorial Bridge is scheduled to close for 30 to 45 days starting in May. In addition, access north of Court Avenue on U.S. 31 will be prohibited for about a year while a new flyover ramp is under construction.
Despite the plans, Barber said there will still be delays.
“There will be backups; it will be slower to get through here — it is a construction project,” he said.
He added there will be several phases to the project and traffic changes will be occurring throughout construction of the downtown corridor.
With the traffic plans in place, Rowland explained what construction efforts will be in full-swing this summer for the Ohio River Bridges Project — which will construct new downtown and east-end bridges.
On the Kentucky bank of the Ohio River, crews are constructing a steel wharf to be able to load and unload barges. On the Indiana side, two causeways from Jeffersonville’s waterfront are being constructed out into the Ohio River. The temporary causeways will extend several hundred feet into the river and allow construction crews to install the bridge piers that are the closest to the Indiana riverbank. Piers out in the middle of the river will be installed using floating barges, planners for the bridges project said previously.
Installation of steel shafts will begin on the Kentucky side in the next month or so, Rowland said. These will have concrete poured into them to form the pillars of the new downtown bridge. Eventually, five piers — which include four shafts to be drilled for each pier — will be placed in the water. Four piers will be along the respective shorelines to support the bridge.
In Indiana, crews will begin constructing a new Court Avenue exit 0 ramp off of I-65 north. The exit will remain open during the project and the existing exit 0 ramp will not be taken down until the new ramp is open for traffic, planners said previously.
But Jeffersonville residents shouldn’t expect to see a new bridge ramp coming off the Kennedy Bridge this year.
“We’ll be clearing and building retaining walls for the exit ramp,” Rowland said. “There’s no real bridge work going on this year there, it’s all going to be ... retaining wall and roadway work. It’ll be tight in there, but we’ll be working right alongside where traffic is existing already.”
He added that there will be more work on the far north end of the project near Stansifer Avenue.