By BRADEN LAMMERS
Hoosiers are getting the raw end of the deal again.
That, at least, is the perception from local officials who have had a chance to view the aesthetics related to the Ohio River Bridges Project.
Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz gave a presentation to the Redevelopment Commission Wednesday night that showed a disparity in the aesthetic plans for the Indiana side of both the downtown and east-end corridors of the bridges project when compared to Kentucky’s side of the project.
“It’s too huge for our area to ignore this on the east-end, or our downtown,” Waiz said of the look of the project. “We just have one shot to do this, and to do it right.”
As designs have been presented and work has begun on the project to construct a new downtown Interstate 65 bridge, new approaches on each side of the Ohio River and rebuild Spaghetti Junction, as well as building a new bridge and approaches on the east-end corridor, time is at a premium.
“We definitely see a lopsided approach,” said Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore. “I expect the Indiana side to be treated in the same fashion [as Kentucky]. Hopefully, the state recognizes this is a project that will be welcoming people into the state.”
According to figures Waiz cited in an email to Paul Boone, project liaison with the Indiana Department of Transportation — and figures he reiterated Wednesday — about $10 million was built into the project’s budget for Kentucky approaches and overpass aesthetics on the east end. In Indiana, on the east end, nothing was in the budget for aesthetics.
Waiz said he had a meeting with Boone and Ron Heustis, INDOT project manager for the Ohio River Bridges Project, to discuss the Indiana approaches on each part of the project.
“At the meeting, honestly, they really didn’t want to budge in trying to help us out aesthetically,” Waiz said to the redevelopment commission. “I think what they’ve done on the Louisville side is fantastic. I wouldn’t want to see anything at all changed over there. But some of the changes that need to be made [on Indiana’s side] downtown, we need to do it and we need to do it now. What’s going to be put in place is what we’re going to be looking at ... for the next 75 years.”
Waiz took the commission members through the proposed plans for the downtown portion of the project being managed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and being constructed by Walsh Design Build Team. The estimated construction cost is $860 million.
Among the features on the Kentucky side that he walked the commission through were facade options, plazas for pedestrians and bicyclists near overpasses, aesthetic access controls, monuments and extensive landscaping in the medians of the interstate approaches.
For Indiana, options were also offered on the gateways to the city, with different facade choices. However, Waiz expressed an interest in seeing the three downtown exits and entrances match.
He said he wants to make sure that exits to Jeffersonville on 10th Street, 6th Street and Court Avenue all look uniform, with a red brick facade and signage on overpasses that bear the city’s name. And instead of having Jeffersonville painted on the overpasses, Waiz said they would like to see raised aluminum writing on all three structures.
Waiz said the price he got from the Walsh group to change the interchanges and put in the brick style fencing, and improving the aesthetics of the overpass on Riverside Drive, would total about $1.5 million.
“That’s just a small change order in the whole scheme of things,” Waiz said.
On Indiana’s portion of the project, the short end of the stick theme persisted.
The east-end portion of the project is being completed by Indiana through the contracting team WVB East End Partners at an estimated construction cost of $763 million.
Waiz offered a slide from a presentation given to the area advisory team on the east-end portion of the project showing all the different focus areas for aesthetics in Kentucky, which totaled nine points, including the Ohio River Bridge. In Indiana, there were two: the Ohio River Bridge and the approach to the bridge.
Waiz continued by offering some of the highlights to the Kentucky plan that included cobblestone form liners along with self-weathered steel for overpasses, trail heads at points along the east-end approach, wooden guard rails and cobblestone facing on the approaches to the Drumanard Tunnel.
“They’re really enhancing that area, which they should,” he said. “All I want is for our area to get enhanced as well.”
Waiz continued that the east-end in Kentucky had sound barriers, while there were none in Indiana.
“There’s no sound barriers on our side [and] we actually go through two different subdivisions,” he said. “Whenever the individual gave his presentation, he said, ‘look at all the nice fencing and everything,’ which is very nice,” Waiz said, referring to the presentation given at the aesthetics open house last week. “I wasn’t being a smart aleck or anything, but I said, ‘I guess the black chain-link is for Indiana? He said, ‘yeah.’”
“There’s a huge, huge discrepancy on the east-end bridge,” Waiz said. “We’re going to have to stand up and stand up quick[ly] and say we’re not happy.”
MAKE ‘EM HAPPY
Waiz said at the outset of his presentation that he was surprised to see the discrepancies in the Indiana and Kentucky projects.
But INDOT Spokesman Will Wingfield said plans have been presented to, and discussions have been ongoing, with area advisory teams for years.
“A lot of the aspects were discussed and decided long before the projects were divided between Indiana and Kentucky,” Wingfield said. “A lot of that was carried forward, and that’s how the project was bid.”
He said those plans included landscape design and other tree plantings. He added that two aesthetics open houses were held last week. That was in addition to the six open houses held throughout the last month, including one on blasting held in Louisville’s east end Thursday.
“We’ve gone above and beyond the commitments that have been made on the project,” Wingfield said in relation to aesthetics. “We’ve finally overcome this ‘us versus them’ mentality that has held us up for decades. If that’s something the local officials are interested in they need to provide more specifics and quickly,” he said of the desire to upgrade the look of the project.
He added if a decision is reached locally that upgrades need to be made to the project’s look, the local government entities would likely be asked cover the costs of the improvements and the cost to maintain the aesthetics.
“That has been the agreement in other areas of Indiana,” Wingfield said.
Local officials do plan to act quickly to change the look of the project.
The redevelopment commission agreed to send a resolution to state officials, including the governor, expressing their disappointment in the plans proposed. Waiz added that he will be urging other area agencies to pass and submit similar resolutions.
“It’s disappointing to me that Jeffersonville is in this defensive situation to try and protect some aesthetics and some economic development opportunity, when the state of Indiana should have done this from the get-go,” said Redevelopment Commissioner James Lake. “It’s a real shame that the city is not only doing the battling, but the state of Indiana is not only not leading it, they’re not assisting.”
If changes aren’t made to the look of the project, the redevelopment commission offered their only alternative may be an attempt to slow the construction of the bridges to get the improvements made.
“It might be our only action we can take would result in the project being slowed down, but it would be for the benefit of, not only the city, but for the state,” Lake said.