By BRADEN LAMMERS
Southern Indiana residents got a peek on Tuesday at the bridge and highway that will soon land in their backyard.
Officials with the Ohio River Bridges Project brought a host of renderings to the John Nobel Woods Utica Community Center, with new aesthetic enhancements and the most updated version of the plan for the east-end bridge.
A call was made to enhance the aesthetics of the plans on the Indiana side of the bridges project after designs were initially revealed in April.
Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz was a part of the effort to improve the look of both the downtown portion and the east-end portion of the project in Indiana.
An agreement was reached between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Jeffersonville to share the cost of aesthetic upgrades. The agreement splits the cost of the upgrades 80 percent to 20 percent, with the state covering the larger portion of the costs, up to $8 million. When Jeffersonville’s costs are added in, it totals nearly the same amount set aside in Kentucky for aesthetic upgrades — $10 million.
Among the changes to the project on display in Utica were monument sides in the center of the roundabouts, rail fencing that will line the highway instead of chain-link fencing originally planned and facade upgrades to the overpasses on the east-end.
Waiz said he is happy with the effort INDOT has made to work with the city in making the upgrades, but is still hoping that another change or two is implemented. The main change he would like to see would be to move a maintenance facility, currently set to be constructed near the new Salem Road interchange — which will be the first exit on the Indiana side of the Ohio River in the east end— moved into River Ridge Commerce Center.
“You’ve got one chance to do it right,” Waiz said. “You’re going to be looking at it for the next 50 to 60 years. It’s just very important that we get everybody’s feedback on this project.”
While most of the nearby residents were pleased with the look of the project, two major concerns stood out.
GOING AROUND ABOUT ROUNDABOUTS
One of the main features in the interchange that has local residents concerned is three roundabouts planned in the Interstate 265 interchange with Ind. 62 and Port Road.
“That’s going to back up traffic,” said David Newton, a resident of Stoner Place subdivision off of New Chapel Road. “I like the roundabouts, I like the aesthetic appeal of it, but for the amount of traffic that’s going to go through that area, I don’t think that’s a proper place to have a roundabout.”
He added that businesses in nearby River Ridge, the Amazon fulfillment center employees and the area’s residents are all going to converge in that area and cause congestion.
Other nearby residents offered concerns that the roundabouts could cause accidents in the interchange.
The concern about roundabouts is something INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said is a common response when the structures are proposed as part of an INDOT road project, especially if people are not familiar with the design.
“Research has shown they are safer [and] they move traffic better than traffic signals,” Wingfield said. “These are different than roundabouts that you would see in a local community, they are much larger.”
He explained that the larger size allows the lanes to accommodate trucks traveling through the intersections. Wingfield added INDOT is building more than 30 roundabouts throughout the state in the next few years. The plan for the Ind. 62 and I-265 intersection is to carry three lanes on Ind. 62 into the intersection in each direction. The right lane will serve as a bypass through the roundabouts that have their own dedicated lane and the roundabout itself will include two lanes. The highway exit and entrance ramps will feed into the roundabouts and a third roundabout is located on the north side of the interchange to help provide access to Port Road.
Newton said he preferred the traditional clover leaf pattern of exit and entrance ramps to access the interstate, which has no stop signs or traffic lights.
The plan for the roundabouts replaced the original plan for the interchange, called a diverging diamond, which used traffic signals to help maintain the flow of traffic.
Wingfield said the change was part of the WVB East End Partners’ proposal, the contractor on the project, largely because it provided a way to address access to Port Road.
But it still did not satiate everyone’s concerns.
“I’ve just always had concerns about larger trucks that would be using [the roundabouts],” Waiz said. “But honestly, I don’t know anything about roundabouts, I’ll leave that up to the engineers.”
HEARING IT FROM HOOSIERS
Another concern for many of the residents near portions of the highway, bridge or exit and entrance ramps is the noise.
Byron Ison Sr. said he lives near the back end of the Surrey Hills subdivision and the noise of the highway being constructed nearby is the opposite of the reason he moved there in the first place.
“We’re right at the end of a dead end street,” Ison said. “And we moved there so we could have some piece and quiet.”
But he was also pragmatic about the possibility of sound barriers being constructed to block out some of the noise.
“If we don’t have sound barriers, we’re just out of luck,” Ison said.
But he added that if he could sell his house and move, he would.
“If I can sell it, I’ll sell it,” Ison said. “I wanted to sell it before all this happened.”
For Hoosiers bordering the project, there are no plans to construct sound barriers.
“There are no noise barriers currently in the project in Indiana because they were not found to be reasonable and feasible during the SFEIS (Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement) period,” said Ron Heustis, INDOT project manager for the Ohio River Bridges Project.
He explained as part of the final design the developers of the project are required to take another look at the noise study and determine if their specific design has altered anything. If sound barriers are reasonable and feasible, they will be constructed.
Wingfield said it is a Federal Highway Administration process that determines the reasonable and feasible standards. The requirements include that a base noise level has to be above 67 decibels, noise must be lowered with the barriers installed by at least 7 decibels and the barriers have to be installed in a way that keeps the cost below $25,000 to $30,000 per household.
“As a result, what happens is that you’re more likely to see noise barriers in areas where there is dense housing development,” Wingfield said.
But even with noise barriers installed, it is likely that they won’t dissipate all the noise.
“It’s a wave, just like the wave in a pond,” Heustis said of the sound waves. “If it hits something solid, it gets past it, and once it’s past it, it reforms into a wave again.”
“The primary beneficiaries of those noise barriers are just the first row or two of homes,” Wingfield added.
However, the plans, according to officials at the community meeting, are not set in stone.
“Really people have the ability to comment on most anything, and we’ll take it into consideration,” Wingfield said.
He added there is not a deadline to collect comments on the project, but the sooner the better, especially as the work on each stage of the project gets underway. Comments are still being collected on the Ohio River Bridges project website, www.kyinbridges.com, or through INDOT.