Tuesday afternoon, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Lieutenant Governor and former Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson, current mayor Greg Fischer, United States House Representative John Yarmuth, and a host of dignitaries kicked off construction of the Louisville Downtown Bridge -- part of the Ohio River Bridges Project alongside the East End bridge -- with a ceremonial groundbreaking at Waterfront Park near the John F. Kennedy Bridge. Gov. Beshear announced to the gathered crowd that after 40 years of talking with no action being taken in the meantime, “the first new bridge at the Falls of the Ohio in 50 years” would finally begin to be built.
“It was 1963 when the bridge behind me opened to traffic,” Gov. Beshear began. “The nation was in shock because of the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy. Just days after that tragic event, then-governor Bert T. Combs announced that the new interstate bridge would be named for the President. For 50 years, this bridge alone has carried the burden of north-south interstate traffic across the Ohio River.
“In just three short years, another bridge will stand at this location. Another giant span of steel and concrete will run alongside the Kennedy bridge, and together they will provide up to 12 lanes of interstate, to carry hundreds of millions more vehicles across this river,” Gov. Beshear continued, also giving attention to the East End bridge that will close the gap between Indiana and Kentucky when completed.
Mayor Fischer kept his remarks brief -- thanking everyone for “keeping the pressure” on elected leaders to help launch the ORB project, as well wishing the workers of Walsh Construction and their subcontractors a safe build -- before calling Gov. Beshear back up to the podium to lead off the countdown to the official start of construction on the crossing, marked by a crane hoisting the flags of the United States, Kentucky and Indiana above the Ohio River. Afterwards, the featured speakers dug into a mound of sand prior to inviting the children in attendance -- plastic toy shovels commemorating the event in hand -- to dig into the two mounds of sand where construction will begin. A few lucky diggers found a commemorative two-sided token honoring the ceremonial groundbreaking.
The new Louisville Downtown Bridge will carry six lanes of traffic toward Indiana, allowing the Kennedy to carry six lanes south to Louisville and Kentucky upon reconfiguration. The project is expected to be completed near the end of 2016 at a cost of $1.3 billion in federal funds while doubling capacity and bringing down time and cost of shipping goods through the city.