By BRADEN LAMMERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Following a brief tour of the Sherman Minton Bridge, federal and state officials pledged the Interstate 64 span will reopen.
However, how long it will take to repair and reopen the bridge remains unknown.
“We are committed to getting this bridge open,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This bridge is too important to the people of this region, so this bridge will be reopened. And we will find the resources between the states and the federal government to make it happen.”
Whether the funding source will be the federal government, the respective states or some combination also remains unknown.
LaHood and other officials at a press conference Friday afternoon said that they would have to wait about a week to 10 days before the inspection is completed, and would then be able to address repairing the bridge.
“I wanted to be here to get my own eyes on what a serious problem this really is for the people traversing across here from Kentucky and Indiana,” LaHood said. “We will continue to work closely with Indiana and Kentucky to repair this bridge as quickly as possible. As soon as we have the evaluation ... we will make sure all interested parties ... know the extent of the problem, know what it will cost to fix the problem and know how long it will take to fix the problem.”
And a day after President Barack Obama used the Brent Spence Bridge — connecting Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati — as a symbol of the decrepit infrastructure across the country, and the need to pass the American Jobs Act, LaHood used the Sherman Minton Bridge for the same purpose.
“This is a symbol of what’s happening around America,” LaHood said. “Crumbling infrastructure, crumbling roads, crumbling bridges; pass the American Jobs Act and Americans, Kentuckians and Indianans will go back to work fixing up bridges like this.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul offered his own plan to fund the repairs for infrastructure around the country.
The Emergency Transportation Safety Fund Act he said he will introduce to Congress would prioritize 10 percent of the country’s transportation funds that are being designated for beautification projects and instead put the money in an emergency bridge fund.
Likely at the top of the emergency bridge fund would be the Sherman Minton Bridge, he said.
However, one group that did not offer a legislative plan to repair the bridge, and that was noticeably absent from the press conference, were transportation officials from Indiana.
The only two Indiana officials in attendance were Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan and New Albany Mayor Doug England.
Galligan said he spoke to INDOT officials earlier in the day and when he was asked if he knew why INDOT officials were not in attendance he said, “they thought it was about a jobs bill.”
But Galligan downplayed the political nature of the press conference and said the focus was on getting the bridge reopened.
“It’s about getting money to take care of these problems,” he said. “We need to get this bridge fixed.”
Full replacement unnecessary
Earlier in the day Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline sent out a press release that revealed the agency has learned enough in its ongoing testing and assessment of the Sherman Minton Bridge to rule out that a full replacement of the bridge will be needed. But a timetable was not revealed.
“We won’t know with 100 percent certainty as to what the repair solution will be until our testing is complete, but nothing we have seen indicates that replacing the bridge is necessary,” he said in the release.
Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock also said he was able to speak with INDOT earlier in the day and with the inspection more than halfway complete, inspectors were able to make the determination that the bridge would not need to be replaced.
“As the process is under way we are beginning to feel more comfortable that we don’t have hugely serious issues,” he said.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear reiterated the point.
“As a result of the inspection so far, I will say that I have become at least cautiously optimistic that our worst fears will not be realized,” he said. “We certainly agree with Indiana’s announcement this morning ... that the whole bridge will have to be replaced is off the table.”
The Interstate 64 span connecting Louisville and New Albany has been shut down since Sept. 9 when a critical crack was discovered in a load-carrying portion of the bridge, which has since been repaired.
“The original crack, the two-and-a-half inch crack, has been repaired,” Beshear said. “They dated that crack and it actually dates back to when the bridge was constructed in 1962. And that’s good news for us.”
He explained that the “good news” was because it was not a new crack that spread quickly, but added an inspection of the rest of the bridge must still be completed.
While the crack had gone undiscovered for nearly 50 years — the crack was located in a weld, under a metal plate — Beshear said he still had confidence in the inspection process, and that it is continually being revised and updated.
“I can assure you of one thing: we are moving as fast as humanly possible to conclusively diagnose our situation here, and figure out the solution and figure out how fast we can move to get that solution implemented,” he said.
Hancock again added the caveat that the range of the extent and expense of the repairs will not be able to be determined until the inspection process is complete.
“We will figure out a way to pay for this,” Hancock said. “This is our number one funding priority.”