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May 4, 2013

OUR OPINION: If you’re going to do it, do it right

The Ohio River Bridges Project is massive. It’s projected to cost more than $1.6 billion and will take about three years to complete, construction officials say.

With primary construction kick-off just weeks away, some of the smaller details about the project are getting scrutiny, like the bridges approach and overpass aesthetics recently questioned by city of Jeffersonville officials.

Here’s what you need to know: As with the proposed tolling structure, Hoosiers are getting a raw deal in terms of how nice their side of the bridges project will look.

An April 26 article in the News and Tribune detailed concerns from Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz and Mayor Mike Moore. Waiz said during a redevelopment commission meeting that $10 million has been set aside for aesthetics surrounding the Kentucky side of the new downtown  and the east-end bridges. The amount earmarked for Indiana ramps to those same bridges: Zero.

According to renderings from construction officials, the Kentucky portion will feature sound-deadening barriers, detailed landscaping and even plazas where hikers and bikers can stop near Interstate overpasses to rest and relax.

By comparison, Indiana’s side in renderings looks rather plain, and does not feature pedestrian plazas or detailed landscaping. Also, designs for the three Jeffersonville exits nearest the downtown bridge do not match each other, Waiz said. Plans for Indiana’s east-end portion do not feature sound barriers and employ chain-link fencing instead of touches like cobblestone and self-weathered steel in Kentucky.

The reaction from an Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman in the News and Tribune article hinted that this has now become a local problem for a project that has long been state and federal in nature.

“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 in the article. “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.”

INDOT’s Will Wingfield said many of the aesthetic issues were decided before the project was split into two portions — with Indiana taking the east-end work and Kentucky the downtown construction. Further, Wingfield said, “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.

But Waiz noted that the clearer picture on the aesthetics have only recently come into view.

It’s true that some of the state rivalry that for years held the project back has been put aside, but issues like the disparity in the quality of aesthetic touches — let alone the fact that Hoosiers will be paying a disproportionate amount of tolling for the new bridges — can do nothing but make Southern Indiana residents feel put-upon. How else should Hoosiers be expected to feel given the facts?

But Wingfield does bring up a good point — there’s still time for Southern Indiana residents and officials to do something about the slight, on aesthetics at least.

We’re calling for construction officials to set aside funding to make the Indiana portion of the project uniform and on par with the planned aesthetics in Kentucky. We urge readers to write INDOT officials and their area state legislators calling on them to take action. And while they’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to talk about the still-undecided tolling plan.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editor Chris Morris. Responses can be sent to

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