Photo by Nicholas Zeman / ENR
Downtown Crossing will start cable work at a ramped-up pace.

Crews are grappling with inclement weather and extra responsibilities on the design-build portion of the $2.6-billion Ohio River Bridges Project (ORBP), linking Kentucky and Indiana. The main contractor hopes to ramp up work and stay on schedule.

Walsh Group won the $860-million design-build Downtown Crossing contract in 2012, with a December 2016 slated completion. Walsh is also in a $763-million concessionaire contract to build ORBP's East End Crossing.

Storms, floods and high winds have put pressure on the Downtown Crossing schedule, under which Walsh faces potential late fines of $80,000 per day. In addition, Kentucky transportation officials in January decided to contract a complete retrofit of one part of the crossing, the 51-year-old John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge. "We've had to increase the manpower and start working a double shift for the rest of the year," says Steve Kehle, vice president of Walsh Group.

The extra retrofit includes the complete replacement of the Kennedy bridge deck and the stringer beams that support it. "Construction on the project will hit its peak this summer," says Jim Stiles, business representative for IAIW Local 70, the ironworkers' association. When opened, the new bridge will carry northbound traffic, while the existing bridge will carry southbound vehicles.

Ironworkers "are comfortable with the scope and scale of this project because many of them worked on the Milton-Madison bridge just up the river," notes Stiles. "The cold weather did shut us down, but now it's the high water: It's too high to get manpower and equipment on the barges and out to the towers in the middle of the river."

Downtown Crossing spokeswoman Mindy Peterson says crews have begun to install the steel stay cables and are prepared to ramp up the pace of work. "We fleeted the barges, which are being constantly monitored by tugboats, and the lower portion of the bulkhead and causeways had to be cleared of all cranes and equipment. We'll have to restage those areas once the river does recede."

Foundation work is complete on the bridge's three structural towers. "The final pour on the last structural tower will occur within the next two weeks," Peterson says. "Then, we will start really cranking up installation of the stay cables."

Crews also continue the massive job of reconstructing the Kennedy Interchange and untangling the many veins of "Spaghetti Junction," where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge. To maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction during peak hours, crews must build new overpasses and roadways. Once these are completed, traffic will be shifted to allow for the old connections to be demolished. Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, says, "We call it the Big Squeeze."

This article was updated on June 5, 2015.