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FHWA OKs OH River Bridge Megaproject

Thursday, June 21, 2012

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The federal government has cleared the way for Kentucky and Indiana to move forward on the long-awaited $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project, including a controversial $255 million tunnel that Indiana will build in Kentucky.

 The new downtown bridge (center) is shown adjacent to the Kennedy Bridge (bottom).

The new downtown bridge (center) is shown adjacent to the Kennedy Bridge.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced Wednesday (June 20) that it had approved its environmental review of the project, which has been under discussion for about 50 years.

The goal is to reduce congestion around the Louisville metro area and in Southern Indiana.

Budget, Deadlines Pruned

The latest version of the plan cuts $1.5 billion from the project, halves the construction time, and adds tolling as a funding source. Those changes, which the states submitted in early 2011, required a separate round of approvals to FHWA’s 2003 Record of Decision.

Now, the six-year project—one of the largest in the nation—is expected to shift into high gear. An August kickoff is planned at a separately funded piece of the project on the Indiana side.

Contracts will be awarded in the fall, with construction expected to begin early in 2013. The project will support more than 4,000 construction, engineering and supply-related jobs, officials say.

However, the American Subcontractors Association has warned prospective contractors and suppliers that the general contract will include sharply reduced bond requirements that could leave subs holding the bag on products and services.

Scope of Work

The project calls for two new bridges and reconfiguration of the Kennedy Interchange in Louisville. Each state will pay about $1.3 billion for the project.

Working together, Kentucky and Indiana will:

• Build a new I-65 bridge over the Ohio River;

• Reconstruct the I-64/I-65/I-71 Kennedy Interchange; and

• Build a new SR-265 East End facility that includes a new bridge over the Ohio River and a tunnel connecting to the I-265 Gene Snyder Freeway.

The project will provide 12 lanes of river crossing, up from the current eight lanes.

 Ohio River bridges
The new Downtown Bridge (bottom) will feature six lanes of northbound traffic, while the Kennedy Bridge will handle six lanes of southbound traffic.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will oversee construction of the downtown Louisville portion. The Indiana Department of Transportation will oversee construction of the East End Crossing, spanning the river between Prospect, KY, and Utica, IN.

Complete project information is available at

‘Eager to Move Ahead’

The two governors hailed Wednesday’s step forward.

“After decades of discussion and debate, the Ohio River Bridges Project is about to become a reality,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “... Kentucky and Indiana have overcome the challenges and cleared the path for a safer, better transportation system for the two-state region.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called the federal approval “another important step for the two states on this long-awaited project.”

“We’re eager to break ground and move ahead with construction,” he said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the project a “win-win” for both states that would “put people to work and help improve our infrastructure.”

Tunnel Criticized

Fewer raves have greeted the project’s tunnel, however, which Indiana will build in Kentucky. The tunnel runs under a 55-acre estate of disputed historical significance.

 An artist’s rendering shows the east entrance to the $255 million tunnel.


An artist’s rendering shows the east entrance to the $255 million tunnel that Indiana will pay to build under Kentucky land. One local official calls it “the worst decision of the whole project.” (Note: Although the rendering shows three lanes, there will be only two.)

Twenty years ago, preservationists trying to stop the bridge project were able to secure a historic designation for the land. Since then, challenges have arisen about the land’s historic value.

The Jeffersonville and Clarksville councils had appealed unsuccessfully to FHWA to approve only the I-265 bridge. Indiana and Kentucky state officials say there is not enough time to delist the property from the national register and start the approval process over.

Indiana defends the investment, saying it will open up thousands of acres along I-265 to development.

‘A Boondoggle’

Jeffersonville City Council president Ed Zastawny, whose town will directly benefit from the project, is among the tunnel’s critics.

“That tunnel truly is a boondoggle,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “I’ve heard a lot of people say it. It restricts the flow of traffic and makes the project much more expensive, and it benefits so few. Of all of the decisions, that was the most expensive and worst decision of the whole project, there’s no doubt.”

Chris Poynter, spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, told the paper that the project would benefit the entire region.

“We’ve got to have more bridges across the river to maintain our competitive advantage,” he said.


Tagged categories: American Subcontractors Association (ASA); Bridges; Construction; Infrastructure; Subcontractors; Tunnel

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