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Scope, Schedule Pose Challenges On Ohio River Bridges Project

What's missing here?" That's how Ron Heustis begins his public briefings as the manager of construction for the Indiana Dept. of Transportation on the East End Crossing. "I put the map of Louisville in front of them, and it's obvious." Missing, since 1969, are 8.5 miles of Interstate 265 around the eastern side of Louisville, Ky. A 45-minute detour is required to get to points south from Indiana.

By October 2016, the gap will be filled with some $1 billion of bridges, tunnels, interchanges, super- highways and shared-use pathways delivered by WVB East End Partners, a joint venture between Walsh Investors of Chicago, Vinci Concessions of France and Bilfinger Project Investments of Germany in a public-private partnership (P3) concessionaire agreement.

For travelers passing through the Louisville area from the north or south, the East End Crossing will offer an alternate route that bypasses the city's downtown traffic congestion. And for travelers coming in and out of downtown Louisville to Indiana, a companion bridge—the Downtown Crossing—also will be open by December 2016. The two crossings and related work, together called the Ohio River Bridges (ORB) project, represents a $2.6-billion, bi-state, bipartisan undertaking that also showcases two alternative project delivery methods: P3 and design-build. The ORB project in May served as the first construction stop heading west on ENR's "Low & Slow Across America's Infrastructure" tour.

In 2012, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) formally committed their states to evenly split the cost of ORB and get the projects going with P3 and design-build, respectively. The need for alternative delivery and for tolls, the governors stated, came in light of continued uncertain levels of federal funding.

That agreement "is really what got the project rolling," says Steve Nicaise, vice president with Parsons Corp., the lead of a joint-venture general engineering consultant team responsible for scope and budget development, design review and coordination. "Two bridges, one project—we are looking at the entire system and how it works together, along with a huge public involvement effort," says Mark Fialkowski, Parsons senior vice president.

Hoosier Hustle

Currently, 700 WVB workers and WVB's subcontractors are working on both sides of the Ohio River along the East End Crossing's 8.5-mile alignment. The bifurcated project includes 3.5 miles in Kentucky, where drill-and-blast twin bores of a 2,000-linear-ft tunnel require removal of 196,000 cu yd of limestone. Each arch-topped bore is about 34 ft tall, 55 ft wide and as deep as 72 ft below grade. The twin tunnels, running north and south beneath a historic estate, will be lined with 26,160 cu yd of concrete. Another 2 million cu yd of limestone with a clay overburden is being removed for the roadways that will be buffered with 340,000 sq ft of retaining and sound walls. The Kentucky side also includes a 2,000-ft-long approach bridge, consisting of standard steel girders.

On the Indiana side, crews are building 4.5 miles of highway, including 15 bridges and overpasses, requiring 13,340 cu yd of concrete and 49,600 tons of asphalt, both temporary and permanent. The Indiana side includes 1.6 million cu yd, of which only 30% is rock, and 30,800 sq ft of retaining walls.

The crown jewel of the project is a striking 2,500-ft-long cable-stayed bridge that has a 1,200-ft main span crossing the Ohio River, connecting Kentucky to the south with Indiana to the north. The bridge sits on clusters of 12-ft-dia drilled shafts driven, on average, 90 ft into bedrock. The convex, diamond-shaped twin towers will soar 300 ft high and support 104 cables, weighing 1,000 tons.

The bridge's total weight is 4,960 tons, comprising 24,000 cu yd of structural concrete, along with 6,670 tons of structural steel in the deck, which will consist of precast-concrete panels. It will carry an initial four lanes and a bicycle-pedestrian path, with room for two additional lanes.