Growth hits high gear, as downtown bridge nears finish

Growth hits high gear, as downtown bridge nears finish
Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez (Source: U.S. Dept. of Transportation)
Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez (Source: U.S. Dept. of Transportation)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - This Halloween could be the last in which the scariest drive in the Metro is the construction zone around the downtown section of the Ohio River Bridges Project.

"Look closely, it's almost done," Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock told reporters Tuesday.

"After being projected to cost 50 percent more than it ended up costing," U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky, 3rd District) said. "And it was not going to be open until the next decade."

Two-and-one-half years ago, the shore next to the Kennedy Bridge was little more than mud and gravel. Mid-September 2015, the steel span across the Ohio River itself has only two gaps, both expected to close by mid-October with all 88 stay cables in place.

Twelve million pounds of steel and 50,000 square yards of concrete, on span and in reworked lanes and approaches, to encompass $1.3 billion of the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.
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By Halloween, the bridge will extend from bank-to-bank, according to a press release from the Kentucky Governor's Office. The concrete deck should be poured by Thanksgiving, and the new bridge open to North and Southbound traffic.

"We will see work commence on the old bridge to bring it up to standards," Hancock said.

The 52-year-old Kennedy Bridge will receive a $22 million renovation, with a new concrete deck. It should re-open by the end of 2016. The completion would coincide with the East End Bridge, connecting Prospect, KY to Utica, IN, linking the Lee Hamilton and Gene Snyder Freeways (I-265.)

"There already are more tenants moving to this area than there are buildings available," said Keith Starling, a representative of America Place Business Park, a sub-development
of the River Ridge Commerce Center off of IN-62, within one mile of the re-worked I-265 interchange.

America Place has a 250,000 square foot facility under roof on property adjoining Tenneco, a producer of catalytic converters and clean-air systems for Ford and General Motors. Starling declined to reveal who the new tenant will be, but the exterior plans call for more architectural details than typical for a 'spec' building.

"We're close, I can say that," Starling said.

Another concrete slab is being poured for a facility across the street, and America Place has plans for an office-retail strip adjoining the Amazon Fulfillment Center at River Ridge, Starling confirmed.

"This bridge is the face of an economic powerhouse," Kentucky Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen said Tuesday. "These two bridges will infuse $87 billion dollars into the local economy."

The estimates are based on growth projections for the next 30 years.

"More than 4,000 jobs in construction and engineering," said Victor Mendez, Deputy Secretary
for the U.S. Department of Education. And more than 15,000 jobs created indirectly.

Mendez was in Louisville as keynote speaker for the second day of AutoVision, the inaugural summit of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association. Mendez said both new bridges and their infrastructure improvements will offer tests of connective technology designed to improve safety by allowing vehicles and traffic signals to communicate with one another. 

Mendez offered few specifics as to how such technology might work, beyond heralding several automakers for committing to automatic braking technology as standard, rather than optional equipment.

"We could see 20,000 fewer deaths from non-driver impaired crashes," he said.

Such technology presumably would include inter-connectivity with the automatic tolling set to go into place when the Kennedy, East End and Downtown Bridges are fully-operational.

Mendez' pledges drew some skepticism from attendees, one of whom asked how such technology could be made "hack proof."

Starling missed Mendez' address. But he's certain that demand for land will increase once the East End Bridge opens, to allow for just-in-time deliveries to Ford, Toyota and General Motors Assembly plants in Kentucky, and to Subaru and Honda facilities in Indiana.

River Ridge has set aside a 1,750 super-site, with demarcations for a Supplier Park. Should it land its own vehicle assembly plant:

"Changes overnight," Starling said. "River Ridge would be full-up overnight, I promise."

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