By BRADEN LAMMERS
As final preparations are underway, planners with the Ohio River Bridges Project hosted an open house for the public to get a peek at the plans for the new downtown interstate corridor.
Preparatory construction work has already begun along some portions of the Indiana and Kentucky banks of the Ohio River, full-swing operations are still expected to start July 1 and finalized design plans are expected to be determined this month.
In addition to allowing the public to ask questions, a short presentation recapped the plan for the project.
“The project is comprised of three distinct sections that will all be constructed simultaneously,” said Arik Quam, project manager for Walsh Design Build Team, the contractor for Kentucky’s portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
The three sections are: the reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction; the construction of a new downtown Interstate 65 bridge and the rehabilitation of the Kennedy Bridge into a southbound-only span; and the Indiana approach to the bridges.
Quam recapped that during construction, planners will keep two lanes of interstate traffic open at all times and the only closure to the interstate this year is the eastbound I-64 to southbound I-65 ramp. It is expected to be closed from July 1 until the middle of 2016.
Walsh Construction Project Manager Max Rowland said that along the banks of the Ohio River is where people will be able see progress on the first phases of construction.
A test shaft was drilled along Riverside Drive in Indiana last week, and the concrete was poured Tuesday.
Rowland said testing of the shaft will take place in about a week to ensure it meets engineers’ design estimates.
Riverside Drive resident Beverly Knight offered her concerns with the noise and vibrations that will come with the bridge construction, and also offered a concern about the test shaft that was poured.
Planners were quick to point out no blasting will occur on the downtown portion of the project, but that when the test of the pier occurs, Walsh will use a series of explosions to ensure the vertical and horizontal durability of the pier. They added that despite rumors of relocation, if issues are discovered with the test peir, the bridge’s path will not be changed.
Also, on the Indiana side, planners will begin constructing a stone causeway to allow construction crews to reach the piers closest to the riverfront.
In Kentucky, fencing will go up in Waterfront Park around a bulkhead that will be constructed to provide some access to the piers closest to the Louisville riverbank.
Rowland added that access in Waterfront Park via a sidewalk along River Road in Louisville will be maintained. A sidewalk along the riverbank, however, will be closed during construction.
Planners also said that Riverside Drive will remain open during construction.
The timeline for when the work will begin in earnest has also not changed.
“We really do plan on gearing up and starting construction in July of this year,” Rowland said.
Before a construction blitz begins, plans for the project still must be finalized.
Rowland said that Walsh has conducted two area advisory team meetings with local officals, and is still gathering the input from the second round of meetings.
Rowland said he is hopeful that recommendations will be ready by May 16, when plans can be finalized and submitted to the bi-state management team.
Whether or not changes to the aesthetic plans will be made to the Indiana approaches downtown has still not been determined.
Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz voiced his concerns about the aesthetics on the Indiana side recently during a Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission meeting. He requested, among other things, that gateways be constructed at Court Avenue, Sixth Street and the 10th Street corridors,
“It’s being discussed,” Rowland said after his presentation. “We’re trying to figure out if we can [do it].”
He said there will definitely be a gateway constructed at Court Avenue, as it was built into the project’s plans.
But for the Sixth and 10th Street exits, the gateways are uncertain.
Rowland said Walsh has agreed to install form liners and lettering along 10th Street, but has not agreed to make it a “full-blown gateway.”
“It’s basically not in our budget, so we’re trying to figure out if we can rob Peter to pay Paul,” he said.
COURT AVENUE CONSTRUCTION
Other construction plans in Indiana this year include plans to build the new northbound ramp to Exit 0.
Rowland said the existing ramp on northbound I-65 to Exit 0 will stay open during the first phase of construction and will close only when the new ramp is tied into the project.
He said that is unlikely to occur this year. He added the southbound Exit 0 will eventually be eliminated, but again that will not occur this year.
“The existing [southbound ramp] will stay open the entire season,” he said.
Another open house for the downtown portion of the project is planned for the fall and will be held in Indiana.