By BRADEN LAMMERS
Construction activities on the Indiana and Kentucky approaches to the east-end bridge began this week.
Tree clearing and vacant building demolition is under way in Kentucky and site preparation work was scheduled to begin Friday, according to Indiana Department of Transportation Spokesman Will Wingfield.
Clarksville-based Gohmann Construction Inc. will perform work in Prospect, Ky., with the installation of signage and sediment/erosion control measures, while Dan Cristiani Excavating, also of Clarksville, will perform the work in Utica, according to a press release from the Ohio River Bridges Project. Due to environmental requirements, trees must be cut before April 1. Impacts to forested areas are being mitigated by planting or preserving additional areas of trees outside of the construction limits, according to an INDOT press release.
While the tree clearing will be highly visible proof that work is moving forward on the east-end portion of the Ohio River Bridges project — which will build the east-end bridge, a downtown bridge and rebuilt Spaghetti Junction in Louisville — another visual aspect of the project has left some residents disappointed.
WVB East End Partners in its project bid changed the design of the east-end bridge from a median-tower, cabled-stayed bridge chosen by the state to a convex diamond-tower, cable-stayed structure.
The change, for some nearby residents, was not met with adoration.
“I’m disappointed, truthfully,” said Welby Edwards, a Quarry Bluff resident. “The other bridge was absolutely fabulous.”
He said once the east-end bridge has been completed, he will be able to see it from his back porch. And the previous bridge design, Edwards felt, would be a asset to Utica where the Indiana approach would connect to the bridge. He even said he believed it would be so much of a draw that it could boost property values around the area because of people wanting to have views of the new span.
“It’s just a beautiful structure,” he said of the median-tower design. “It was wide open. It just had elegance to it. It was not going to be an eyesore. They solved a lot of problems by putting a beautiful bridge in there. It wouldn’t have been utilitarian, it was going to be something worth looking at.
“[Now] it’s a bridge that’s not going to be anything you’re going to brag about.”
Both bridges are described as being open designs, resembling a sailboat in the water. The difference between the two is largely the median-tower, cable-stayed bridge pole and support was located in the center of the bridge, while the convex diamond-tower cable-stayed bridge’s two main support structures attach to the outer portions of the bridge.
Beyond the aesthetic, Edwards questioned why a design change was made now.
“I don’t understand how you have one bridge for six years and change it at the last minute?” he asked. “That’s what they sold us, that’s what they should build,” he said of the original design.
Edwards wasn’t the only one that preferred the design chosen by the state.
“Aesthetically, I think I like the previous one better,” said Utica Town Board President Hank Dorman.
However, he said he believes the span that will likely be constructed by WVB will be a very attractive bridge.
Doorman, too, questioned the changes being made to the project plan at this point.
“I didn’t realize they had given the contractors the ability to change that design,” he said.
WHY THE CHANGES?
Built into the proposals that INDOT chose from to determine a contracting team were various alterations to speed up the project and drive down the cost.
“There’s been a number of changes in the project since 2009-2010,” Wingfield said.
One of the major ones made was when Indiana decided to pursue the procurement method of a public-private partnership, or a P3.
“The P3 delivery model has the contractor doing a large amount of design,” Wingfield said.
It was through that process that the bridge was changed.
“The contractor gets to decide which is the most cost effective,” Wingfield said. “People that build bridges for a living have a better understanding of what it’s going to cost to build and maintain bridges.”
Wingfield noted that the bridge design chosen by WVB East End Partners is very similar to one favored by the public in a 2006 survey and the design changes to the bridge still have to be approved by the state.
In December 2006, the state chose to move forward on a median, cable-stayed bridge for the new east-end span after a series of public meetings which offered up a choice of more than 40 different bridge designs. At the meeting, the public actually preferred a diamond-tower, cable-stayed bridge to the median, cable-stayed bridge 51 percent to 32 percent.
Despite the preference of the public, the state chose to go with the design that had been in the Ohio River Bridges projects plans up until WVB East End Partners submitted its bid. The median, cable-stayed bridge was chosen over the diamond-tower, cable-stayed bridge, in part due to the expected cost of each span. In 2006, it was estimated the median, cable-stayed bridge would cost $230 million compared to $245 million for the diamond-tower plan.
Wingfield said changes in the projects overall scope altered the expected cost of each of the spans. The median design was chosen under the assumption the bridge would be three lanes in each direction, with the state designing the project and the plan going through a traditional procurement.
“The state ... thought the median span was the best decision based on the conditions at the time,” he said. “[But] when the state makes a decision, it’s not made with public sector competition. If WVB would have thought a different design would have been better, they probably would have gone with that.”
Wingfield added that contractors also considered long-term costs.
“The diamond design is easier to build and maintain,” he said. “When you’re talking about a bridge over the Ohio River, that’s important.”
As crews prepare the approaches to the east-end bridge for construction, they will need to take extra precautions due to wildlife discovered on the Kentucky side of the river.
Design plans for the Kentucky approach to the bridge show that part of one bridge support or pier is within the 660-foot area where eagles nest, Wingfield said.
“It only encroaches into the right-of-way by 60 feet,” he said. “It’s not a significant portion of the work zone.”
No work will occur near the nest until August, before nesting season begins.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits include five pages of mandatory conditions that apply to activities within 660 feet of the eagles’ nests. Those include a ban on slamming pickup truck tailgates, loud radios, shouting and singing. The permit also limits tree removal and requires that bridge lighting not directly shine on the nest, according to the report.
“We are going to work within the guidelines of the permit,” Wingfield said.
He explained that there is a two-week period in which the work can occur, between the eagles’ nesting period and when gray bats inhabit the area, which is in late August.
The nest in question is located in a backyard tree on private property near the Ohio River in northeast Louisville, according to an Associated Press report. The eagles that use the nest are believed to be the second active breeding pair recorded in Louisville.
The groundbreaking on the east-end bridge has already occurred with construction continuing on a 3,000-foot extension of Old Salem Road, which began in late August. The road will provide improved access to the River Ridge Commerce Center and the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville.
Gohmann Asphalt is pouring concrete, driving steel pilings and placing fill for a 170-foot overpass at the first exit on the Indiana side of the East End Bridge, according to INDOT. Contractors are also excavating and blasting to install new drainage pipes.
Work on the bridge itself and its approaches is expected to begin this summer. A second and final notice to proceed will be issued to WVB East End Partners following “financial close” on the financial terms of the procurement, which is anticipated near the end of March, Wingfield said.
The east-end bridge is expected to be opened to traffic by the end of October 2016.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has also issued its notice to proceed to Walsh Construction Co., leader of a “design-build” team for a new Interstate 65 bridge connecting the downtowns of Louisville and Jeffersonville. Walsh will complete design work on the new bridge, interstate connections and geotechnical drilling, and develop staging areas for materials and equipment in the coming weeks, according to a press release.
The plan presented is expected to cut construction costs by more than $90 million have the downtown construction completed by December 2016.