What is the project?
The Ohio River Bridges Project is a priority national transportation project under Presidential Order that addresses long-term, cross-river transportation needs in Louisville and Southern Indiana. It is one of the largest transportation projects in the country and will result in safer travel, less congestion and improved access to destinations in the region.
The project includes constructing two bridges – one in Downtown, the other in the East End, eight miles upstream – plus reconfiguring Louisville’s Kennedy Interchange.
The new Downtown Bridge would ease congestion on the Kennedy Bridge, which carries traffic from Louisville to Jeffersonville along heavily traveled I-65. The Kennedy Interchange is where three interstates merge – I-65, I-64 and I-71 – creating a confusing mixture of lanes known as Spaghetti Junction. The biggest and most expensive part of the Ohio River Bridges Project calls for reconstructing and reconfiguring Spaghetti Junction.
Why is it taking so long?
Building two bridges and fixing Spaghetti Junction is a mega project estimated to cost $4.1 billion. The cost of the project has to be spread out over many years.
On average, KYTC and INDOT projects typically take 10 years from conception to construction with the public only engaged periodically during the process. An unusual aspect of the Bridges Project is the extensive public involvement from start to finish. The project engages the public and Standing Advisory Teams to gain input and feedback regarding many project decisions. Steps are also taken to minimize the impact of the project on historic properties and the environment. While these steps take time and this project is more complex than most, it’s not considered an excessive amount of time for a project of this magnitude.
Where are we in the process?
Because of the sheer magnitude of such an undertaking, the project is in several phases at the same time. The Project is currently in the pre-construction phase which includes exploring issues such as determining precise right-of-way needs, developing historic preservation plans for areas on both sides of the river and preparing construction timetables.
The right-of-way and utility phases are expected to begin this year and will involve securing the needed property and relocating utilities in preparation for construction. Preliminary construction began in 2007 with the relocation of a ramp at the intersection of U.S. 42 and KY 841. In advance of the rebuilding of “Spaghetti Junction,” a portion of I-65 at hospital curve, north of Broadway, might enter into construction in 2009. The entire project is currently scheduled for completion by 2024.
How much will it cost?
The project is estimated to cost $4.1 billion. Kentucky’s portion will be $2.92 billion, or about 70 percent of the overall cost. Indiana’s share will be $1.15 billion, or about 30 percent. A financial plan has been developed and will be updated annually. The plan takes into account inflation and escalating roadway construction costs that tend to rise faster than other costs. Keeping the project on track is important for keeping it on budget. Delays to items on the project schedule will likely cause increases in costs.
Will there be tolling?
There is not a current tolling proposal. A Preliminary Traffic and Revenue Options study that includes proposed toll collection systems and toll scenarios has been conducted by the KYTC. This study provides information for both states to review and determine how to move forward in a unified way with funding. Should the project or one of the State Transportation Agencies decide to pursue some form of public or private financing for the project, a more detailed comprehensive traffic and revenue study would be required.
Are Right-of-Way (ROW) plans complete?
On the Kentucky side, the downtown right-of-way plan is finished and the preliminary plan for the East End is finished. Once the KYTC and the FHWA approve the plans, right-of-way activities will proceed. In Indiana, some advance properties in the Utica area have been purchased. Right-of-way plans are being developed for the Utica and Jeffersonville areas.
What properties will be acquired first? How long is the process?
With the current funding, it is expected that some ROW acquisitions will be initiated soon. How long that takes is dependent on continued funding and negotiations with property owners. Once started, the right-of-way process will take several years.
How many homes and businesses will be impacted?
Right-of-way plans are subject to change. Current plans call for the following:
Kennedy Interchange (Spaghetti Junction)
This section contains approximately 105 parcels: 1 residential and 30 business relocations
Downtown Indiana Approach
The exact number of land parcels in this section will be determined as plan development proceeds
East End Kentucky Approach
This section includes approximately 99 residential properties, 38 of which will require relocation. The other 61 require partial land acquisition.
East End Indiana Approach
15– 20 residential and 2 business relocations are included in the preliminary estimates
What is the cost of purchasing all of those properties?
The cost of purchasing properties in Downtown Louisville and Eastern Jefferson County is estimated at $92.7 million. In Indiana, approximately $73.9 million is estimated for right-of-way in Jeffersonville and Utica. These estimates are based on the Initial Financial Plan. They will be revised based on actual appraisals and purchases.
When is somebody going to talk to impacted people?
A Right-of-Way Acquisition Strategic Plan, based upon construction phasing, relocation assistance time requirements and funding requirements has been developed. Public meetings will be held to outline the right-of-way plans. Some property owners might be approached starting this year whereas, according to the plan, the right-of-way process in other areas would not begin until as late as 2011.
What about historic properties affected by the project?
Per the Record of Decision, every feasible and reasonable effort is being made to accommodate historic properties. Every step of the way the project has operated with input from the Historic Preservation Advisory Teams. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) has more than 200 line items related to preserving historic property or mitigating impact. The MOA requires the preparation of Historic Preservation Plans (HPP) for historic properties and districts, which provide a context for mitigating external impacts. The Bridges Project utilizes the services of historic preservation specialists, archaeologists and others with expertise in areas related to historic and environmental preservation.
The project's MOA calls for the development of seven Historic Preservation Plans (HPPs), four in Indiana and three in Kentucky:
Indiana: Old Jeffersonville Historic District; Swartz Farm Rural Historic District; Township of Utica Historic Lime Industry; and the Smith Farm property (no HPP will be prepared for this property because it was not donated).
Kentucky: Butchertown Historic District; Phoenix Hill Historic District; and Country Estates of River Road Historic District/River Road Corridor (this area includes historic properties of the River Road Corridor.)
How is the public involved?
The direct result of a 2003 Federal Highway Administration Record of Decision, the Ohio River Bridges Project follows strict adherence to requirements for both transparent public involvement and commitments to ensure appropriate mitigation, planning and accommodations for environmental, historic and community resources. The decision followed a four-year, environmental impact analysis with extensive input from local communities.
Standing Advisory Teams, including diverse representation from local governments, neighborhood organizations, and civic and environmental groups review design elements and provide input throughout the project. Public meetings are held periodically to allow the opportunity for input and feedback to project officials. The public can also contact the Kentucky Ombudsman, the Indiana Ombudsman or the General Engineering Consultant.
It took Minneapolis less than a year to build a replacement for the Mississippi River bridge that collapsed. If Minneapolis can build a bridge in less than a year, why can't we?
The circumstances surrounding the two projects are drastically different.
The Minneapolis I-35W bridge suffered catastrophic failure and collapsed on August 1, 2007. The disaster made the city eligible for emergency relief funds through the Federal Highway Administration. Emergency relief funds cannot be used for new or expansion projects. Federal guidelines say that emergency relief funds can only be used to repair or restore highways to pre-disaster conditions. Minneapolis' $234 million replacement bridge opened on September 18, 2008.
Since the Minneapolis project was replacing an existing structure in the same location, it did not face many time-intensive issues typical for a bridge project. For example, because the I-35W bridge was replaced in its existing location, little or no right-of-way acquisition was required. Replacing the bridge in place also limited the environmental requirements and approvals. Maintenance of traffic issues were, of course, eliminated because the bridge was closed.