Robert Harris, construction manager for Louisville’s $1.2-billion Downtown Crossing, downplays his role in coordinating a team of state engineers and design-build team members on Kentucky’s largest-ever project, a 2,100-ft-long, three-tower cable-stayed bridge connecting downtown Louisville to points north.
“At the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, we’ve always been a team, usually just smaller and more self-contained,” he says. “I try to be an impartial referee here. Sometimes I tell the resident engineers, ‘Maybe the contractor is on the right track.’ Everybody has a say.”

Robert G.   Harris Jr.
Robert G.Harris Jr.

KYTC section engineer Jeremiah Littleton is more outspoken about Harris’ role. “What Rob’s vision brought to life was a hand-picked team of in-house, government employees … backed by an on-demand army of engineers and inspectors,” says the ebullient engineer. “Rob had worked with all of us before.”
Littleton adds, “He could see our combined strengths vastly covering our many weaknesses. Battle-tested, he knew what it would take to get [done] the biggest project we have ever had—and done right. He picked us and turned us into a family. Throughout the short life of this project, we have been through deaths, births, family struggles and mental breakdowns. Rob is always there to cover for us, kick us in the junk, pat us on the back, dust us off, defend us or just be there as we cry on his shoulder. You wouldn’t get the dedication to a successful project without a boss like that.”

ENR's Top 25 Newsmakers IconA lifelong employee of the KYTC, Harris “retired” in 2007 to work for the consultant team that was working on the Ohio River Bridges project, which includes the Louisville crossing and an East End section in Indiana, when it was still design-bid-build, he says. 

When it looked like the project was doomed, he returned to the KYTC. “It was a $4.1-billion project.Nobody was going to find that kind of money. It was starting to die a slow death,” he says. 

But then, the two states got together. Indiana went with a public-private partnership for the East End crossing and Kentucky chose the design-build route.
Rather than retiring for good, Harris came back to the project. The new bridge is 75% finished, ahead of schedule and on budget, with lanes open to traffic, while, alongside it, demolition is set to begin on the old Kennedy bridge.

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