Bridge officials: Tolls start soon, tunnels necessary to move project forward

Bridge officials: Tolls start soon, tunnels necessary to move project forward

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tuesday, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials and those with Walsh Construction sat down to discuss the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.

The Ohio River Bridges Project and the Downtown Crossing makes up $1.3 billion of the cost, a massive undertaking, and they're relieved it's nearly all complete.

There's a lot to be proud of, but leaders know some speed bumps are still lurking, including: getting drivers use to tolling which begins in the next few weeks.  Also, drivers who don't want to pay to cross the Ohio River may start clogging the Second Street and Sherman Minton Bridges at first, and finally there's the East End Crossing controversy of the unsold Drumanard Estate.

KYTC Project Manager Andy Barber said of the project's completion, "It feels great, it's rather satisfying."

Thanks to Walsh Construction crews working seven days a week to keep traffic moving, Barber can breathe easier, eight years after he began overseeing the bridges project. Barber said finishing on budget, ahead of schedule for a project this size doesn't happen often.As tolling is set to begin, Barber is confident a 2013 traffic model has them ready for likely congestion on the two cost-free bridges.

"We anticipate the traffic increasing on the Sherman Minton as well as the Clark Memorial," Barber said. 
Barber believes drivers will accept tolls to save drive time. As for the construction's biggest hurdles? The first two winters were tough. 
Walsh Project Manager Steven Schauer told us, "We had a lot of flood days, we had higher than average precipitation, it was cooler and it was really a struggle."

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Cleaning up Spaghetti Junction was no picnic either.

KYTC Construction Manager Rob Harris remembers how it started, "Narrow lanes, we had short merges and no shoulders and one bridge."

Finishing early and seeing people walk across the Lincoln Bridge December 5, 2015 was gratifying for them all. When it comes to the East End Crossing and those costly tunnels built to preserve the historic Drumanard Estate, Kentucky paid $8.3 million for the property.

So far, the state hasn't been able to sell it for millions less. Barber maintains despite the huge cost for the tunnels and the property, it was the only way to move the project forward.

"Without that tunnel, " Barber said, "you probably don't ever have a project and that East End Crossing never gets off the ground," he continued. "The Ohio River Bridges Project bringing in $87 billion over the next 30 years to the region, it makes sense to do that and yes it was worth it."

The state put a preservation easement on the estate and Barber says now they will go back to the drawing board to sell it. By the way, their biggest project surprise? The lack of complaints from drivers.  They believe advance warnings from KYTC about exit changes and closures helped keep those complaints about road changes down.

Walsh finished the Downtown Crossing on November 18, much earlier than its bid date of December 9.  The company picked up $40,000 a day for the early finish.

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