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March 8, 2014

BRIDGING THE FUTURE: Examining the Ohio River Bridges Project impact on New Albany

NEW ALBANY — Minus the campfire and moonlight, the tales revealed by downtown property owners inside the living room of East Spring Street Neighborhood Association President Greg Roberts sounded more like horror stories than reality.

Last year, Charlie Harshfield’s car was totaled when struck by a vehicle near his East Elm Street home. Just a few months later, his new truck was also severely damaged when hit by a car, and he said his vehicles have been side-swiped three times on the street with the various wrecks resulting in $20,000 in repair costs.

Mark Sanders lives off East Spring Street, near the slight curve in the road close to East 10th Street, and has had two vehicles totaled due to wrecks in less than 10 years.

With the Ohio River Bridges Project underway, the neighborhood group is pushing for the city to address what they feel is a dangerous traffic grid before more motorists head to New Albany to avoid tolls which will be placed on downtown interstate bridges and the new east-end bridge.

Roads such as Spring, Elm and Market Streets are already sped through by motorists who show no concern for the neighborhood they’re endangering, Roberts and other members of the group said.

“They don’t live here and they don’t care about the people that live here every day,” Harshfield said.

Overwhelmingly, the residents and business owners interviewed by the News and Tribune for this story said they support two-way streets in downtown New Albany for safety and commerce reasons, and added that the bridges project should make that decision even more clear for city leaders.

CONGESTION ON THE WAY?

Though planners for the $2.6 billion bridges project — one of the largest construction projects in the country — ruled that New Albany would not see a substantial impact from the work, city officials have never believed that to be true.

Interstate 265 as well as downtown will be affected by the project, Mayor Jeff Gahan said, with the  question being how much and for how long?

“Congestion is not always a bad thing, especially if people come to New Albany and experience it for the first time, at least they’ll have the opportunity to be introduced to our city,” Gahan said this week. “But sometimes traffic can be a deterrent. Too much of it can create an environment where people don’t want to live, and we’re very concerned about that.”

Electronic tolling will be utilized when the project is completed in 2016 on the new downtown and east-end bridges, as well as on the Kennedy Bridge, all in Clark County. The Clark Memorial Bridge and Sherman Minton Bridges — which carries Interstate 64 traffic into and out of New Albany — will not be tolled.

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Jamie Collins, Scottsburg, works on lesson plans in her classroom at Scribner Middle School on Monday afternoon. Collins was the recipient of a $100 gift card to the Your Educational Supply Store from the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Education Foundation. All first-time teachers in the school system received a gift card to help them set up their classrooms.

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