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Condition of Ohio River Bridges Causes Repair,?Budget Snags

Wed October 12, 2011 - Midwest Edition
Bruce Schreiner - ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) An ailing Ohio River bridge linking Kentucky and Indiana will stay shut for repairs lasting about six months and costing some $20 million as workers fasten more steel to reinforce the heavily traveled span, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Sept. 30.

New steel plating will be installed along both sides of a section stretching horizontally along the Sherman Minton Bridge, which connects Louisville, Ky., and New Albany, Ind., along Interstate 64, officials said at a press conference.

“Short of a complete replacement, this is just about as forceful an answer as was available on the menu,” said Daniels, who was joined by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear in announcing plans for the double-decker bridge that forms a key transportation artery.

The bridge, used by more than 80,000 vehicles a day, was closed after an approximately 2.5 in. long crack was found in a steel support beam. More cracks were found in the nearly 50-year-old steel span.

Daniels said the work will result in a much stronger bridge, adding at least 20 more years to its life.

Both governors said the states will find the money to get the repairs done.

“Dollars and cents were always an afterthought. Safety first, speed second,” Daniels said. “But I like what I’m hearing on the dollars and cents.”

The neighboring states share the bridge costs equally, but Indiana takes the lead role for the span’s maintenance.

Daniels promised the project would move on a fast track. Bids are expected to be awarded in mid-October. The contractor will be offered financial rewards up to $5 million for finishing work before the targeted date for completion.

“We’ll have a good, spirited competition,” Daniels said. “That tends to produce innovation, it tends to produce a good price.”

Still, the timetable for repairs will subject thousands of commuters to months of traffic headaches stretching into next year. Traffic has been funneled over the area’s two other Ohio River bridges, causing longer rush-hour delays.

The governors sympathized with those struggling to get to work or ship goods, but said the repair plan was the best solution.

“Safety comes first,” Beshear said. “And we’re going to make sure that this bridge is repaired to where it’s going to have a long, long life and it will be safe for the folks that use it.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement that having the bridge closed for six more months will be inconvenient, but “it’s better than the alternative of having the bridge closed for years.”

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said the federal government would supply up to $5 million for the repairs.

The governors ruled out reopening a portion of the bridge while the repairs were done, following a recommendation from engineers.

“That just would not be the safe route to go,” Beshear said. “If you’ve got a bridge that’s in trouble right now, it doesn’t make much sense to have people back on it while you’re just starting to repair it.”

During an exhaustive review of the bridge, defects were found in welds and numerous other cracks were detected along sections of the bridge that will be reinforced, Indiana transportation officials said. Daniels said workers will bolt three million pounds of new steel to the sections.

“We are going to fix every single defect that was found ... and then apply this additional reinforcement end to end,” Daniels said.

Indiana transportation officials had previously said the damage was not extensive enough to warrant a full replacement of the bridge.

Inspection crews have worked almost around the clock doing a top-to-bottom examination of the bridge.

Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline said the price tag for repair and engineering work so far on the bridge totals $6 million to $7 million, an amount separate from the estimated $20 million cost for the more extensive repairs in the coming months.

The bridge has drawn a steady stream of political leaders from both states, and its closure has come as President Barack Obama pushes his jobs program, which would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure.

Obama highlighted his jobs plan with a recent visit to another outdated Ohio River bridge that connects Ohio and Kentucky.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured the Sherman Minton Bridge recently and said federal officials are committed to getting it reopened.

The bridge closure has intensified the push for a more ambitious project to build two new Ohio River bridges in the vicinity. The proposal includes a new span in downtown Louisville and one in eastern Jefferson County, Ky.

Mendez said that federal officials are prepared to expedite the approval process for the additional bridges.

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