By MATT KOESTERS
It’s a project that has been talked about for more than 40 years. But on Tuesday, the talking came to an end and the work got under way.
“For 40 years, there’s been a lot more talking than doing on the Ohio River bridges,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “Today, we change that.”
State officials from Indiana and Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the cities of Jeffersonville and Louisville gathered at Waterfront Park in Louisville to celebrate the commencement of construction of the downtown bridge, a component of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
“These bridges link more than just two banks of this historic river,” Beshear said. “They connect people. They create possibilities. They keep commerce flowing and jobs growing. They preserve our way of life and they promise a better tomorrow. My friends, the road to this region’s future starts here, and it starts today.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was not in attendance, but was represented by Jim Stark, the deputy commissioner for innovative project delivery with the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“Every morning, thousands of Southern Indiana commuters battle some of the state’s most congested roads and bridges to reach their workplaces across the Ohio River,” Stark said. “The state of Indiana is proud to be a partner with the commonwealth of Kentucky to build the first new bridge in downtown Louisville in 50 years. We can be proud that Indiana and Kentucky have come together to accomplish something that will benefit both states, and that all begins today.”
Also in attendance from Indiana were state Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany), state Sen. Ron Grooms (R-Jeffersonville) and Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore.
“The construction itself is exciting, and so are the jobs and all of the investment and other economic activity that we’re about to see,” Clere said. “It’s a very exciting time to live in the Louisville area.”
It wasn’t just officials that were turning over dirt during the groundbreaking portion of the ceremony. Children from the community joined the officials under a canopy, where they used commemorative plastic shovels on a pile of sand to provide the symbolic start to the downtown bridge project.
“This is about the future,” said Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. “It’s about the generations yet to come.”
The Belle of Louisville served as a backdrop to the scene of the groundbreaking ceremony. At the conclusion of the officials’ remarks, the Belle sounded its whistle and played calliope music.
The downtown bridge will stand adjacent to the Kennedy Bridge, which currently accommodates both northbound and southbound traffic along Interstate 65. When the downtown bridge is open, the two bridges will combine to provide 12 lanes of interstate traffic, Beshear said.
“Normally when you see a sign that says ‘under construction,’ you know what’s ahead — detours, delays and road blocks that kill your momentum,” said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “But this ‘under construction’ sign is different, because if you lived in Kentuckiana for the last three or four decades, you’ve seen the detours, delays and road blocks that stalled this project’s momentum. Today is a sign that all of that is behind us.”
The Ohio River Bridges Project, which also includes the construction of a new east-end bridge to complete the I-265 loop and the realignment of Spaghetti Junction, is scheduled to be completed in December 2016.