The Ohio River Bridges Project addresses the long-term transportation needs of the Louisville-Southern Indiana region. Its purpose is to enhance safety, reduce traffic congestion and improve transportation connections throughout our growing metropolitan area.
In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved a Record of Decision that calls for building two new bridges and reconfiguring the Kennedy Interchange (Spaghetti Junction).
In 2011, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer urged the project team to explore cost-saving ideas, which reduced the overall estimate of the project from $4.1 billion to $2.6 billion, a savings of more than 35%. As required by federal law, the states developed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to examine proposed changes. This led to a revised Record of Decision in June 2013.
A Comparison of the 2003 Selected Alternative and the 2011 Modified Alternative
The Kennedy Interchange (Spaghetti Junction)
The 2003 selected alternative calls for moving the Kennedy Interchange south from its current location in downtown Louisville. Among the improvements, it eliminates weaves, problematic merges and tight curves. It creates emergency lanes, maintains an average speed of more than 45 miles per hour during rush hour and creates entrance and exit ramps on I-71 at Frankfort Avenue.
The 2011 alternative would keep the Kennedy Interchange in its current location while still eliminating sharp curves and weaves, creating emergency lanes and maintaining an average 45 mile per hour rush hour speed. It would retain current left side I-65 exits and entrances onto I-64. The 2011 alternative requires substantially less right-of-way land, and it avoids moving major electrical transmission lines.
The 2003 selected alternative calls for building a new Downtown Bridge, a cable-stay with three sets of twin towers. The bridge would carry six lanes of northbound I-65 traffic and include a 17-foot wide pedestrian-and-bicycle lane. The existing Kennedy Bridge would be rehabilitated to carry southbound I-65 traffic.
The 2011 modified version eliminates the pedestrian/bicycle path. Since 2003, the states have invested in a separate project to build a pedestrian-and-bicycle path on the nearby Big Four Bridge.
Indiana Approach to Downtown Bridge
In the Clarksville-Jeffersonville area, the 2011 alternative replaces several flyover ramps with lower profile, more traditional ramps. The cost is lower, the construction is simpler and the ability to maintain traffic during construction is easier.
East End Bridge, Tunnel and Roadway
The 2003 selected alternative calls for building an East End Bridge and extending 265 in Kentucky and Indiana to complete the interstate loop. This includes a 2,000-foot tunnel under the historic Drumanard Estate.
On the Indiana side, plans call for building a new four-mile highway, which includes an innovative Diverging Diamond interchange at 265 and 62. This safer design also cuts more than $50 million from the original design.
The two highways will be connected with the East End Bridge, a cable-stay structure with two center towers.
The 2011 modified alternative maintains all the design features on the East End, but it reduces the lanes from six to four. This means reducing the width of medians and shoulders on the bridge by 23 feet. It will still be wide enough to accommodate six lanes in the future by restriping the bridge deck and reducing the width of shoulders. This means less concrete, structural steel and cable supports, creating significant cost savings.
The width of the Drumanard Tunnel will be reduced from 54 feet in each direction to 40 feet. This will still accommodate six lanes in the future, but with narrower shoulders on both sides.
The total cost for the 2003 selected alternative is $4.1 billion dollars. The 2011 modified alternative is approximately $2.6 billion – a savings of 35 percent.
Because of decreasing federal funding and rising construction costs, the states do not have enough money to cover the costs of either alternative. The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority was created to explore supplemental financing options.
The Authority has been looking into financing approaches that could speed construction and reduce the inflationary costs. The group has also been working to develop a tolling policy to cover the gap between traditional funding and the cost of the project. Only high-speed, no-stop tolling is being considered.
The ongoing environmental study will consider a range of toll rates and how they might affect traffic patterns. The Bridges Authority will ultimately set the toll rates to fill the gap between available state and federal funding and the cost of the project.