By BRADEN LAMMERS
Heading into its first winter construction season, the Ohio River Bridges Project is showing visual signs of progress.
Pier structures are starting to appear above the water in the Ohio River — which will eventually hold up the new northbound span of Interstate 65 — and southbound, piers are in place for new lanes and exit ramps heading into downtown Louisville from Jeffersonville.
Project planners showed off the new alignment for the southbound portion of I-65 in Kentucky, also known as phase one of the project.
Walsh Construction Project Manager Max Rowland said during the last 2 1/2 months, crews have made quite a bit of progress building the project substructure.
The work includes eight piers for new southbound lanes of I-65 and a new exit ramp for Jefferson Street in Louisville, to run alongside Louisville Slugger Field.
Rowland explained that when the exit ramp officially opens — which is not expected until 2016— drivers will have to get on the lane farther back in the roadway, part of the design to help eliminate some of the weaves that exist through Spaghetti Junction.
As crews wrap up the substructure of the southbound I-65 lanes, the next step in the process will be setting of beams between the piers. Rowland said some of the beams will be set by Christmas and the remainder will go in place during January.
“Our goal is to have phase one, these structures completed, have the decks poured and ready to switch traffic by the middle of next year,” he added.
Following phase one’s completion, Walsh will begin construction on the middle lanes of I-65, or phase two of the project. That portion is also expected to take about a year to complete. The final phase will be the eastern portion of the I-65 corridor, before the project is completed and all lanes are open to traffic.
“We’ll repeat the same process, basically each year until we work our way across and get all three of the phases done,” Rowland said “All of this has to be timed so that we coincide with the finishing of the river crossing which is still slated to be done in April 2016.”
With the visual elements of the project taking shape, Rowland said motorists in the area will soon see, and experience, a host of traffic changes.
The first of those changes will be coming Tuesday, Dec. 3, with a transition of traffic onto a new exit 0 on northbound I-65 into Jeffersonville.
Rowland said the switch to the new exit ramp will be made after the morning rush hour at about 9 a.m. A temporary exit will allow drivers to get off of the highway onto Court Avenue in Jeffersonville while construction on the new portion of the corridor continues. Once the shift is made to the new exit ramp, the existing exit 0 ramp will be demolished.
Also, a major transition is planned for summer 2014. Southbound traffic on I-65 will be moved onto the new lanes.
Despite the winter months ahead, construction is not expected to stop on the project. Rowland explained that weather days were originally built into the work schedule and as long as the weather is not severe, work will continue each day.
If needed, crews doing concrete work in cold weather will warm the water to mix the concrete and wrap the poured structures in blankets to keep them warmer to cure properly.
“What we want to do is get the beams set this winter. You can do that in cold weather pretty easily,” Rowland said.
By setting more piers and beams during the winter, when spring comes, crews will be ready to do major concrete work like pouring the decking for the new southbound lanes.
“You can’t put asphalt down when it’s 20 degrees,” Rowland said.
He added that the project remains on schedule.