By BRADEN LAMMERS
Construction on the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project is set to begin July 1.
At a press conference Wednesday, transportation planners presented the plans to construct Kentucky’s portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which included the downtown bridge, its approaches on both sides of the Ohio River and the reconstruction of the Kennedy Interchange, which is often referred to as Spaghetti Junction.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manager Andy Barber said the project will be completed in 3 1/2 years, by December 2016. Walsh Design Build Team, the contracting team for the project, will complete construction of the project at an estimated cost of $860 million. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials said previously the total cost of the downtown portion of the bridges project will exceed $1 billion when counting the costs for land acquisition, utility relocation, preliminary design and consulting work, construction oversight, toll system development and other necessary items.
The right-of-way needed to construct the downtown corridor is still being purchased by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and is expected to be complete by this summer, Barber said.
“Walsh Construction has promised, and we will deliver, this project under a very aggressive timeline and construction schedule,” said Arik Quam, project manager for Walsh Design Build Team.
He said the project will be built in three sections simultaneously and eventually combined in order to meet the tight construction timeline.
“The first new bridge ... is set to open to traffic exactly three years from this month,” Barber said.
Quam said April 2016 is the timeline for when the three sections of the project will be combined.
“It’s at this important milestone that all traffic, northbound and southbound, will be placed on the new river crossing ... and then the remaining sections of the Kennedy interchange, the JFK [bridge] rehab and the Indiana approaches will be completed in that final season in 2016,” he said.
“This project will improve traffic congestion and provide for a world-class interstate system,” Quam added. “We are confident this project will be the model and the right way to construct such a mega project in an urban environment. We are enthusiastic to be building the signature bridge crossing in the heart of Louisville that will be the cornerstone of pride and immediately recognized as being a part of the impressive Louisville skyline for many, many generations to come.”
TOLLING TO START EARLIER?
If the new Interstate 65 bridge is completed and open to traffic in April 2016, it would also be the start date for the states to begin collecting tolls.
According to the bistate development agreement signed by the states, tolling is scheduled to start on the new bridges “as soon as each is open to traffic.” In addition, tolling of the Kennedy Bridge can begin when the earliest of one of the following occurs: the date when the new downtown crossing is sufficiently complete and open to traffic; the date of the east-end crossing’s substantial completion; or June 30, 2018.
The Kentucky-Indiana Joint Tolling Board, which includes leaders of the two states’ transportation and finance agencies, have yet to meet or officially set toll rates.
A consultant — Steer, Davies, Gleave — in completing a traffic and revenue study told the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority last month that commuters could expect rates at $1 for frequent commuters each way; $2 for nonfrequent two-axle vehicles; $5 for medium trucks; and $10 for heavy trucks.
Barber said the tolling agreement could change if both states were to agree to it and added the bistate pact was written prior to knowing what the schedules were for the procurement process.
Both states have committed to use all-electronic tolling, in which users of the bridges can pay tolls via a vehicle-mounted electronic transponder that sends a signal to the tolling devices that debits the cost from an established account or a high-resolution video that captures images of a vehicle’s license plate and then send bills to the bridge users.
A final traffic and revenue study is expected soon, which is required in advance of the bond sales to finance the project. Barber said the timeline for Kentucky to sell its bonds is still on track.
HOOSIER WORK SCHEDULE
On July, 1, when construction is slated to get into full swing, work will focus along the shores of the Ohio River and on Interstate ramps in Indiana. Along with Indiana approach work, a new off ramp to Court Avenue will be built, said Blake Morris, project manager with Walsh Design Build Team for the Indiana approach.
“The existing ramp will stay open until the new ramp is functional, which should be at the end of this year,” he said.
New off- and on-ramps for Stansifer Avenue are also planned for construction in 2013. And despite the work, Morris said the ramps will remain open to traffic.
“There will be, really, no closures of any ramps this year,” he said.
Other obvious signs of construction on the downtown portion of the project in Indiana will be the clearing of buildings in the path of the new northbound lanes of I-65. Among those buildings expected to be lost are the McDonald’s and Waffle House, both off of Court Avenue near Exit 0.
A separate contract with the Indiana Department of Transportation will help relocate five historic homes in the path of the bridge as part of an agreed order between the states’ transportation organizations, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and conservancy group River Fields Inc.
Barber said he does not anticipate any delays in the construction start date in order to meet the terms of the settlement agreement. Quam said he has receive similar assurances that INDOT will have the homes moved before construction begins.
KENTUCKY WORK SCHEDULE
Joel Halterman, project manager with Walsh Design Build Team for the new Interstate 65 bridge, said that some of the earliest work on the new river crossing will be constructing river access points on the Kentucky and the Indiana sides of the Ohio River. He said in the next month, access roads will be built off of Riverside Drive in Jeffersonville. A similar plan will be put into action in Louisville in Waterfront Park.
However, it was noted that both riverfronts will still be accessible, but people will be detoured around the project area and safety zone barriers will be installed to keep the public out of the worksite. Officials also said the construction will not affect events being held in Waterfront Park during the summer, which includes attractions like the Forecastle Festival and Waterfront Wednesday concerts.
“Access to waterfront park will be maintained,” Barber said. “We’re not touching access to the Big Four Bridge either.”
Another summer staple also will see work occurring nearby.
“The first work that will be happening come July 1 would be right around Slugger Field [where the Louisville Bats play],” said Nick Faul, project manager with Walsh Design Build Team for the new Kentucky approach and Spaghetti Junction.
He said crews will be working on constructing overpasses from Main to Liberty streets in Louisville. Access will be available for traffic and pedestrians during the day around the area, but there may be night closures, Faul said.
Work, initially, in Spaghetti Junction will focus on I-65 and the I-71/64 corridor.
The only planned ramp closure planned in Spaghetti Junction for this year will be the I-64 eastbound ramp to southbound I-65, which is expected to close July 1. The ramp is expected to remain closed through the duration of the project.
Planners added that two lanes of interstate traffic will remain open at all times during construction to avoid major backups, but Barber admitted the project will add to the traffic congestion in the downtown corridor.
“It is a construction project, so yes, there will be some times that traffic will be worse,” he said.
Planned closures and detours will be released as they are determined and will also be posted online.
Quam said built into the construction schedule were a number of nonworking days per month. The days will act as a contingency plan if there are delays related to weather or the Ohio River allowing the contractors to maintain their construction schedule.
The east-end bridge has an anticipated completion date of October 2016 and the downtown corridor has an anticipated completion date of December 2016.