Economy & Finance

New look for new Ohio River bridge

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— The East End Bridge is getting a new look.

With Indiana’s approval, the companies in charge of designing and building the span rejected the style selected by a committee of elected and community leaders more than six years ago.

Instead of the needle-like towers that had been originally proposed to support cables carrying the bridge deck, the cables now connect to two bulkier arches rising above the roadway.

Indiana officials say the new design helped WVB East End Partners cut the overall cost of the eastern bridge and its approach roads by more than $220 million, and more closely matches the choice of a public vote held before a group headed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher in December 2006 chose the needle towers.

The popular design — favored by about 51 percent of the 2,800 people who voted online and at four meetings for the eastern span in 2006 — had arches that came to a point, while the new design’s supports are squared at the top.

But, “We feel as if we were able to meet the wishes of the public while also saving dollars for taxpayers and toll payers,” Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, told The Courier-Journal ( ) in an interview.

Indiana didn’t widely publicize the change, which Wingfield said could undergo more revisions. And as recently as this week the previous design still dotted the bridges project’s official website, although new images appeared Friday afternoon.

Wingfield and Ron Heustis, Indiana’s project manager, said the state made clear at various stakeholder meetings over the past year that it would be open to a new design. And Wingfield noted that the design had been publicly available on the Indiana Finance Authority’s website, where it’s found in WVB’s technical proposal for the bridge.

“It’s been up there for more than a month at this point,” Wingfield said.

The 18-month bridge design process culminated in 2006 with a selection committee choosing the designs for both spans. The three-tower design for the new downtown bridge hasn’t changed, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Wingfield said the selection occurred before the states decided to allow the same firms to design and build the eastern bridge, rather than taking construction bids on a set design. He cited those changes as helping reduce the cost and construction schedule.

But the new look has its critics, including the architect of the bridge’s previous design.

Miguel Rosales had favored the narrow tower look as compact and minimal for the bridge’s largely undeveloped setting. Rosales, who was paid for his work, said he isn’t surprised by the change because of its cost savings, although he is disappointed by what he calls a “standard design.”

“It doesn’t really reflect the conditions that we thought were important at that location,” said Rosales, principal at Rosales + Partners in Boston.

Prospect resident David Warner, who lives in the Bridgepointe subdivision near the bridge’s Kentucky approach, said the new design is “not unattractive” and understands the financial reasons for the change.

Still, he said, needle-like tower “is much more attractive, and a piece of artwork.”

The cost of the bridge itself is redacted in WVB’s financial plan, which was submitted to the finance authority along with its design proposal in late October. The previous design was projected to cost $284 million as of last March.

Rosales said he wasn’t consulted about the design change and Wingfield said all of the previous design work was provided to WVB.

Former Jeffersonville Mayor Dale Orem, a member of the 2006 committee that selected the bridge design, said he was unaware of the change until notified by a reporter.

Orem said he isn’t concerned that his committee’s choice was discarded, saying he still believes the bridge will have a nice “silhouette.”

“At least they kept the total idea,” Orem said. “They didn’t go … to a box girder or any obtrusive thing. To the East End, I think this still will be attractive.”

The new design has greater resistance to “wind, seismic and other load demands, and is a more redundant and robust structure,” according to WVB’s proposal.

The bridge’s cable system is designed to last for up to 75 years, and the individual strands can be removed for testing or other inspection without affecting traffic on the span, according to the proposal. Among other features, the bridge would have an “inspection catwalk” allowing crews to walk the structure’s entire 2,510 feet below the deck.

Indiana finalized its contract with WVB last week. Construction on both portions of the project is expected to start later this summer.

Building the eastern span and the roads leading to it would cost roughly $763 million, down from what Indiana officials said was an earlier estimate of about $987 million. Indiana’s section would be essentially done by Nov. 1, 2016, or about eight months ahead of the state’s required completion date.

Kentucky has selected Walsh Construction — also a member of WVB — to build the downtown span, the roads leading to it on both sides of the river and reconstruct the Spaghetti Junction interchange near downtown.

Walsh’s completion date of Dec. 10, 2016, is more than 1 1/2 years earlier than Kentucky’s requirement of June 30, 2018.
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