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For Bridge Workers, the Office is 230 Feet in the Air

While the bridges' height would make many people nervous, it's all in a day's work for tethered Walsh Construction contractors.

Mon April 13, 2015 - Midwest Edition
CHARLIE WHITE - The Courier-Journal

LOUSIVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Drivers who’ve crossed the Kennedy Memorial Bridge in recent months likely have noted the progress of the growing towers for the cable-stayed bridge just east of it, but the unique workspace - 230 feet in the air - has been somewhat of a mystery.

The first of three towers on the Ohio River for the new Interstate 65 bridge between downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana, is now complete near the Indiana shoreline, part of the $2.3 billion bridges project that also includes an East End crossing being built eight miles upstream.

While the towers’ height would make many people nervous, it’s all in a day’s work for tethered Walsh Construction contractors who’ve ascended the towers since foundation work began in July 2013, often working six days a week for 10 to 12 hours at a time.

”It’s just another day,’ said Carl Waters, 31, a hard-hat-wearing member of the Carpenters Union Local 175 who lives in Charlestown, Indiana. ”It’s what I do every day, so you just get used to it.’

Each day, Waters straps on about 60 pounds’ worth of equipment, including a harness, tool belt and life-preserver vest with a strobe light intended to help rescue crews locate workers if they were to fall into the river.

No Walsh workers have fallen or died during construction so far. All injuries have been minor, according to a project official with the Chicago-based, family-owned company.

Waters, who is married with two children, has helped build wooden forms so concrete can be poured on the completed tower. He also worked on the Milton-Madison Bridge and hopes his son may one day pursue a similar career.

”I brought him out here and showed him,’ Waters said, adding his 10-year-old son doesn’t quite understand the concept of construction.

During a news conference last week in Jeffersonville, Andy Barber, a project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the two other towers in the river closer to the Louisville side are expected to be finished this summer. Workers in the coming months will continue installing steel beams, as well as stay cables that will help support the bridge deck.

Four of the 28 cables have been installed on the finished tower. The bridge ultimately will have 88 cables, each ascending set being increasingly larger to help distribute the weight.

The concrete deck is slated to be poured late this year ahead of the first wave of traffic crossing the new bridge in January, Barber said.

Jeremiah Littleton, a section engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, also spoke at the news conference, detailing the process of building the towers up from the foundation set into bedrock beneath the river.

”It has been solid (concrete) all the way up to the deck level. Once we get to about the deck level, it’s hollow on the inside,’ Littleton said.

The hollow portion includes a catwalk that spans the entire underside of the bridge, which will allow state bridge inspectors to inspect each piece of steel.

Holes in the top of the towers also were left to give rappelling inspectors better access.

”They’ll be able to hook off, climb up the tower, put their ropes over and get good tension, and then hang off of the side. It’s really hard to just take a leap and run off to rappel. It looks good in the movies, but for bridge inspections, we don’t like to do that,’ Littleton said.

Jeffersonville resident Jane Brubeck, 71, who lives with her husband on Riverside Drive, has been among those who’ve marveled at the work. The new span is the first bridge she has seen built.

”It’s amazing actually, how they had to dump truck after truck of gravel to make the supports just for the workers to go out in the river,’ Brubeck said while walking along the river last week.

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