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April 17, 2014

INDOT: Big Four Bridge opening delayed until late May

Ramp can’t open until permanent lighting is installed; Mayor disappointed with state agency

JEFFERSONVILLE — Now that permanent lighting rails are being installed on the Big Four Bridge ramp, Jeffersonville’s April 30 opening date will have to be pushed back, according to Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield.

Installation of the lighted handrails — which comply to Jeffersonville’s historic district guidelines — began late last week and won’t be completed until after the Kentucky Derby, Wingfield said.

“At this point, we’re saying we hope to open the ramp to traffic before the Clark Memorial Bridge closes to traffic in late May,” he said.

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said that the city has tried its best to get the ramp of the pedestrian and bicycle bridge opened as soon as possible.

“My experience with INDOT has not been a pleasant one,” Moore said of the project that was originally planned to be completed more than a year ago. “I couldn’t be more disappointed in their organization skills, and I think this is has been an embarrassment to the entire state of Indiana.”

The city planned to open Indiana’s ramp April 30 with the installation of temporary lighting, but now that permanent lighted handrail work has begun, the ramp cannot open up until all workers are finished due to liability issues, Wingfield said. He said that the permanent handrail installation was contracted with Hummel Electric, which does not allow for pedestrian or cyclist traffic to coincide with any construction work.

“Because we hold the contract, we are responsible for the safety of anybody that would be using that facility during construction,” he said. “We haven’t been able to find a way out of that.”

Moore said that he spoke with INDOT officials on having the city assume liability so that the bridge could open while still being worked on.

“Our attorneys hammered all of that out and their attorneys agreed that that was satisfactory,” he said.

However, Moore said INDOT officials have gone back on that agreement because of the terms in their contract with Hummel.

“The meetings we’ve had with them, we’ve worked everything out,” Moore said. “It’s been extremely frustrating for us to be told one thing one week and then they come back the next week and change their mind.”

Wingfield said that although he wasn’t present for those conversations, any agreements on liability issues must be written in order to be set in stone.

“We cannot make verbal commitments of things of that nature,” Wingfield said. “In good faith, we tried to make something like that happen and we could not.”

The $8.5 million Big Four Bridge project is paid for by with 80 percent federal funding through INDOT, and therefore the state agency controls the project. Moore said he had insisted on the April 30 opening date at a meeting with INDOT, but the state agency threatened to pull funding and contractors from the job if the city opened the ramp, so Moore relented.

“The city designs the project, they pay the 20 percent federal match,” Wingfield said. “Once the project is completed, they’ll own and maintain the project.”

Until then, Jeffersonville will have to comply with the state’s contracts for construction work. Wingfield said the $20,000 contract for temporary lighting was financed separately from INDOT’s contract with Hummel.

Moore said that agreements for temporary lighting was another fix for an issue with the state.

“We got past the one hurdle because [INDOT] said we can’t open it until the lights were installed,” he said, noting that’s why the city chose to move forward with temporary lights.

Wingfield said the contract for permanent lights with Hummel was signed after main construction of the ramp had begun.

“They were kind of a precision product that could only be designed once the ramp was completed,” he said of the lighted handrails.

Although not all the permanent lighted handrails have been manufactured, straight portions of the rails have been delivered and are being installed on the ramp and stairway tower to get things moving, according to an INDOT press release. Curved pieces of the handrails take longer to manufacture and are expected to be delivered no later than May 23 and could take a few weeks to install.

Meanwhile, Gohmann Construction, which was contracted for the main construction of the bridge, is returning in the next few days to install custom guardrails where the ramp meets the bridge.

Moore said the delays leave him disappointed with INDOT’s project management.

“I’ve explored and exhausted all options,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider being a repeat customer. I’m not happy with the way they do business.”

David Karem, President of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., said he was surprised to hear of the delay.

“It’s almost like a comedy of errors,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point now where there’s a dark humor [to it].”

Karem said the Louisville side of the ramp was paid for with 100 percent donor money, which made things easier for the city. That ramp and the main portion of the bridge have been open for more than a year.

“Whenever federal money is involved, the level of paperwork and bureaucracy ... it grows enormously,” Karem said.

He said he doesn’t think Jeffersonville’s ramp being closed for another month will hurt usage too much — between June and February the bridge saw about 500,000 pedestrians.

“I think when the Indiana side opens, there’s no question that it will increase traffic,” Karem said.

Pearl Street Treats owner Lynn Rhodea — whose frozen yogurt shop at the foot of the ramp opened Saturday — said she is disappointed that the bridge won’t open as scheduled.

“That’s going to hurt us,” she said. “We were kind of counting on that.”

She said her hopes are that some traffic from the bridge will funnel directly into her shop.

“We would like to make at least enough money to pay back what we’ve spent,” she said.

Rhodea said she didn't think the city of Jeffersonville is to blame for the delays.

“[Moore has] taken so much flak over this, and I know that it’s not his fault,” she said. “He’s probably done everything in his power to spur this along.”

The shop owner said that when the bridge does open to both sides, she hopes that ties between Southern Indiana and Louisville can strengthen.

“We’d like to be ambassadors for our area,” Rhodea said. “We want to be the first welcoming warm faces [when people cross the bridge into Indiana] and forge relationships between the two areas and show them that we want to be friends.”

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New Albany's 11-12 All Star team take a moment to thank the crowd during New Albany Little League's send off to the Great Lake Regional tournament in Indianapolis at Mt. Tabor in New Albany Wednesday evening.

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