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October 25, 2013

Downtown corridor plans presented in Jeffersonville

Upcoming bridges project closures concern some residents

JEFFERSONVILLE — Sandi Johnson and her husband have a unique view of the construction that is creating a new Interstate 65 corridor in Jeffersonville.

They get to see the daily progress being made on the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project from the balcony of their Harbors Condominium on Riverside Drive in Jeffersonville. On Thursday, they attended the second in a series of two fall meetings to inform the public on the progress and upcoming impact of the bridges project to area residents.

Officials with the bridges project have planned four meetings each year as progress reports to the public on the project: Two to be held in the spring and two in the fall, with the meetings scheduled for opposite sides of the Ohio River.

Since construction began, Johnson said she has already seen a lot of progress and is anticipating the new bridge opening.

“We are totally in favor of the bridge,” Johnson said at the meeting at Kye’s in Jeffersonville. “We have sat in our living room and watched the traffic on that bridge for a lot of years and that bridge is needed.”

But she did offer some concern about the upcoming closures and construction impacts that will be coming in the next three years.

One of the closures that particularly concerned Johnson was the upcoming closure of the Clark Memorial Bridge. Bridge planners have announced that the Clark Memorial Bridge is set to close in late spring of next year. The closure is expected to last for 30 to 45 days while crews construct interstate ramps and a flyover ramp in Indiana.

Max Rowland, project manager with Walsh Construction, the contractor on the downtown portion of the project, said the closure will take place sometime after Kentucky Derby weekend — which is held on the first Saturday in May.

“That’s going to hurt because we love that bridge,” Johnson said.

She said that she and her husband walk over the Clark Memorial Bridge often and also use it as an alternative route to access the highway.

Rowland explained that the bridge closure is a result of the exit and entrance ramp tie-ins to the Clark Memorial Bridge and added that crews will be saving some of the limestone facing of the bridge and will be incorporating it back into the project.

Fred Geswein, a Wathen Heights resident, said the construction closures are the reason he attended the meeting with fellow Jeffersonville resident Jim Hardaway. He said he was interested because of the impact the project will have on the region.

“It’s going to change the face of downtown Louisville as well as downtown Jeffersonville,” Geswein said. “And it’s going to alter your traffic flow, especially in downtown Jeffersonville.”

Rowland said that traffic will continue to be a concern for the project and Walsh is required to maintain two open lanes in each direction throughout the project. Crews are allows to further reduce the lanes, but only during off-peak hours, which is overnight.

Jeffersonville is in section three of the project, which Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manager Andy Barber provided a brief update on during the meeting. The three segments are: the Kentucky approach, including a reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction; the new northbound I-65 bridge; and the Indiana approaches to the new downtown corridor.

Some of the early visible work has been the demolition of several businesses between Court Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown Jeffersonville, including McDonald’s and Waffle House. Alongside I-65 the new Exit 0 off-ramp is well underway, with retaining walls that will reach as high as 25 to 30 feet in sections that are in place.

But as much as has changed visually already, Rowland said construction has just started.

“We have actually started work in all three sections,” he said. “The only way we’re going to make these completion dates is we have to be working in all these places at the same time.”

The new bridge is still on schedule to open to traffic in April 2016 and the completion date for the whole project is December 2016.

Johnson said the exits that she was concerned about being in place in Jeffersonville for the project are still in place. She, and the other Jeffersonville residents at the meeting, seemed pleased with the aesthetic plans for downtown, which include new welcome signage into the city, gateways on Court Avenue and 10th Street and upgrades to the facades and stoplights nearby.

Officials expect a final aesthetic design to be signed off on in a few weeks.

But Jeffersonville is on the hook to pay for some of the aesthetic upgrades. A deal was reached in which the city and the Indiana Department of Transportation will split the costs of the upgrades, 80 percent to 20 percent. INDOT has committed up to $8 million to the upgrades which would leave $1.6 million to Jeffersonville.

Neither Geswein nor Hardaway were upset with the costs.

“We don’t have much control over it,” Hardaway said.

“If you want to make your city pleasing you don’t have much of a choice,” Geswein said in agreement with Hardaway. “You can slap up some steel and some concrete and you’ve got what you need, but is that going to attract people to your city?” he asked. “Do it right, whatever it is, do it right the first time.”

A larger dividing line for the community has been the issue of tolling to help pay for the funding gap in financing the bridges project.

“It’s a small price for us, but it’s not a small price for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “And I think it’s really going to hurt downtown Jeffersonville. I don’t know if people are going to come over from Louisville for lunch if they have to pay $2 each way.”

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