The East End Bridge is a highway crossing over the Ohio River northeast of Louisville, Kentucky that will carry Interstate 265. The bridge will connect the Gene Snyder Freeway/KY 841 in Kentucky to the Lee Hamilton Highway/IN 265 in Indiana, and be designated as Interstate 265 once the freeway is completed.3 The project also features a tunnel under the historic Drumanard Estate, a reconstructed IN 62 interchange and a reconfigured US 42 interchange.
Proposals to construct an eastern bypass and bridge over the Ohio River east of Louisville have been in discussions for decades. The lack of a true regional bypass along the Interstate 265 alignment left through-travelers on inner-city interstates that became overwhelmed with traffic.
The first real proposal for an eastern bridge over the Ohio River came on July 26, 2002, when the governors of Kentucky and Indiana announced plans for a bypass, connecting the two disjointed Interstate 265 segments on the eastern and northern fringes of the metropolitan area.1 The original estimated cost of the entire Ohio River Bridges Project was $2.5 billion and the development would be the largest transportation project ever constructed between the two states.
Kentucky and Indiana initiated and funded the $22.1 million Ohio River Bridges Study,1 which concluded that in order to relieve traffic congestion along Interstates 64, 65 and 71, an Interstate 265 bridge, a parallel Interstate 65 span and a reconstructed Kennedy Interchange for Interstates 64, 65 and 71 would be the optimum solution. In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration came to the same conclusion.5 28
In early 2005, the Bridge Type Selection Process began with the design teams presenting 15 10 renderings and plans and receiving feedback at public meetings and votes, open houses and websites.2 4 Nearly 5,000 votes were cast from the Ohio River Bridges Project website alone on the preferred bridge selection and more than 600 votes were cast at open houses.4 5 Numerous comments at the public meetings and votes from the online forms and open houses voiced a strong desire for the East End Bridge to be as “visually transparent” as possible,3 for both the motorists and pedestrians that would use the bridge and for those on land looking at the Ohio River.
The Executive Bridge Type Selection Committee, composed of 16 members from the two states,4 had narrowed down the bridge types to three by July 19, 2006 10 and requested additional public feedback. On December 12, 2006 5, Design A-15 was chosen over the six alternatives presented for the East End Bridge.2 Design A-15 was a cable-stayed suspension bridge with two 229 foot towers 3 and suspension cables that radiated down to the center of the span. The center cable design maximized the the bridge’s “transparency” that was originally desired and reduced the span’s visual impact from land. It was also $15 million cheaper than the other alternatives 4 and would require less maintenance in the long-term. The bridge would include six lanes for automobile traffic, a full right and left shoulders and a 17 foot-wide pedestrian and bike path.
Design work, along with discussions regarding “lighting, colors and textures” was completed by 2008.4
The Drumanard Tunnel, a component of the East End Bridge project and Interstate 265, will pass underneath the historic Dumanard Estate via two six-lane tubes.11 The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.24
The estimated project cost for the East End Bridge in 2007 was $378 million,3 a dramatic rise from a late-2006 estimate of $270 million,4 and an earlier $230 million estimate from early 2006.9 10 The rise was attributed to the rapidly inflating prices for construction materials, especially concrete, due to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina events. The cost to construct the East End Bridge approach and tunnel rose by $143 million, or about 24%.16 Due to the rapidly rising cost, increasing 60% in 2005 alone, the Ohio River Bridges Project was now projected to cost $3.9 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 20056 and $1.9 billion in 2003.12
On July 29, 2005, Congress approved $58 million for the bridges project as part of a $286.4 billion national transportation bill,12 rising the total appropriations since the late 1990’s to $120 million.
In 2006, the Kentucky General Assembly allocated $789 million for the Ohio River Bridges Project over the next six years, but it was still not enough to finance the projects.6 Work began to find alternative solutions to fund the bridge projects. The task, being explored by U.S. Representative Yarmuth, stated that public-private partnerships would get the bridge built within five years and have it cost “get back to the original, or the last estimated cost.”6 Republican David Williams, Kentucky’s Senate president, pre-filed a bill that would allow local authorities to consider tolls and other funding sources. Tolling could remove as much as 16 years from the construction schedule, and had the support from the Build the Bridges Coalition and other local leaders. 16 The $3.9 billion Ohio River Bridges Project cost was projected to consume 18.5% of Kentucky’s discretionary highway money over 24 years if it was built without an alternate funding plan.15
On October 1, 2007, the financial plan was modified as the cost of the Ohio River Bridges Project increased to $4.1 billion, the second cost increase in just a year when the prior $3.9 billion estimate was released in December 2006.16 The plan recommended that Kentucky’s $2.9 billion share be covered through federal and state money that it received through gasoline taxes and other revenue, possibly through tolls, and that Indiana’s $1.1 billion share be covered through proceeds from the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road. Both transportation departments signed off on the deal, although the Federal Highway Administration had still yet to agree.
About $185 million was included for the Ohio River Bridges Project in the 2007 Kentucky two-year budget that was on top of the initial $789 million appropriation.16
Under a tolling plan, work on the Ohio River Bridges Project would begin as early as 2008 and be complete by 2024. The East End Bridge would open by 2014, and a southbound Interstate 65 bridge would be open by 2020. A redesigned Kennedy Interchange would be complete by 2024.16
In 2009, the Kentucky House voted 86-10 and the Senate 35-0, in favor of a bill that would develop a Kentucky and Indiana authority to develop a financing approach for the project.21 By May, Kentucky had spent more than $108 million towards planning for the project, but without assurances of long-term financing, state official announced that they were intending to delay spending an additional $232 million in bond money.28 The legislature had previously approved the $232 million for design, right-of-way purchases and construction for the project which would be repaid by future federal highway funds. But spending on the project had declined; in 2006, the state spent $34.3 million, which declined to $13.1 million for 2009. Indiana in total had spent $28 million in total.
On December 18, Kentucky Governor Beshear announced the sale of $100 million in bonds towards the Ohio River Bridges Project.29 30 The majority of the money was pegged towards the purchasing of right-of-way. Of that, $30 million of that was set aside for 96 properties along the East End Bridge route, 27 of which would require relocation. Twelve properties were purchased earlier under a rule that allowed owners to sell early. Approximately $40 million was set aside for the Downtown Bridge construction, or about a third of what was required. In Indiana, officials spent $10.5 million to buy 82 acres for the Clark County approach to the East End Bridge, leaving $10-$12 million remaining to complete right-of-way acquisition.
Two agencies, the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, and the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority, voted unanimous to endorse a July 9, 2010 plan to use high-speed, electronic tolling methods to raise $2.2 billion of the project’s cost.23 The other half of the cost would come from conventional funding, such as fuel taxes.21 Some groups, including the Louisville Urban League supported the tolling. The Say No to Bridge Tolls group did not, and stated that numerous legislators were not behind the tolling proposal.21 Ten local governments in Kentucky and southern Indiana, including the Louisville Metro Council, opposed the tolling.22 26
Tolls would be collected via an open-road, high-speed tolling system with no physical tollbooths.25 The electronic transponder, such as EZ-Pass, which would be linked to a debit or credit card, would automatically deduct money. Initial toll rates would be set at $1 per crossing for passenger vehicles and up to $12 per crossing for semi-trucks.31 The rates would increase 2.5% annually or be pegged to the national inflation rate, whichever is greater. Tolls would be collected over the next 40 years.32
In a meeting on December 21, 2011 Kentucky Governor Beshear, Indiana Governor Daniels and newly-elected Louisville Mayor Daniels decided upon three major modifications to the Ohio River Bridges project to save $500 million, which could potentially reduce tolls and speed up construction.17 The decision was the result of months of discussions over how to reduce costs, partially in response to public concerns over the toll proposals.
The modifications include rebuilding the Kennedy Interchange in its current location instead of shifting it south into the Butchertown neighborhood, reducing the number of lanes on the East End Bridge to four total, and shift a pedestrian/bike path on the Downtown Bridge to the adjacent Big Four Bridge.17 20 The bike path on the Downtown Bridge would cost $50 million, but the Big Four Bridge had already been planned to be converted into a pedestrian and bike crossing.20
The cost reducing ideas were generated around the idea that no major modifications be made to the alignment for fear that a new environmental impact statement would need to be created, which would then cause substantial delays to the project. Officials dismissed changes to the tunnel and the alignment for the East End Bridge, for instance.17 But several environmental law experts noted that the plan could trigger a broad federal review and revive alternatives to the bridges effort that were earlier dismissed.18 Because the changes are so extensive and the plans are nearly a decade old, the environmental groups stated that the change will necessitate additional reviews.
In a 2006 letter from the Federal Highway Administration to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation, it warned that modifying the project by reconstructing the Spaghetti Junction instead of moving it southward would require a review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The review, called a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, could take less than two years to complete.18
On January 4, 2011, it was announced that tolls would only be sought on the East End Bridge and the Downtown Bridge due to the cost reductions.19 The cost savings dropped the price of the entire project to $3.6 billion.
In November 2013, Kentucky approved the sale of $753 million in bonds to finance the Ohio River Bridges Project.32 33 Specifically, the approval included $424 million in tax-exempt bond-anticipation notes, $301 million in toll revenue bonds and $28 million in taxable bond-anticipation notes.33 The bonds, which were scheduled to be sold on December 20.32 Shortly after, the state was approved for a low-interest, long-term $452.2 million federal highway loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Innovation and Financing Act.31 32 The loan saved approximately $100 million on financing for the downtown crossing.
The East End Bridge is projected to divert 6% of through-traffic from Interstate 64 through downtown Louisville, according to Downtown Development Corporation.6
In Indiana,the interchange with IN 62 was initially designed to be a cloverleaf variant, and would replace the existing interchange.27 The proposal, pegged at $118 million, was later disfavored when the Indiana Department of Transportation announced that the interchange would be converted into a diverging diamond at a cost of $52 million. The interchange type, which is a compact diamond interchange with lane role reversals, has only been implemented in a few locations throughout the United States. The diverging diamond would utilize the existing Interstate 265 bridges over IN 62.
In June 2005, the Indiana Department of Transportation paid $2.8 million for a seven-acre tract of land, the first piece of land acquired as part of the Ohio River Bridges Project.13 Indiana also made bids on two other tracts, although the owners have went to court to demand for additional money. Total acreage needed for the project was 382 acres,13 including 123 residences and 80 businesses. Kentucky began land purchases in 2007 and was completed a year later, while Indiana continued on until 2009.
Construction began on a reconstructed US 42 interchange in Louisville in May 2006.11 The partially-complete diamond interchange featured a one-lane eastbound-only off- and westbound-only on-ramp. The reconstruction relocated the off-ramp to the west side of the interchange. Through Interstate 265 traffic will cross over the ramp and US 42 before descending into the Drumanard Tunnel.
In mid-2007, construction began on a test 12-foot by 12-foot bore through limestone and shale for the Drumanard Tunnel.14 The test bore will be used to test the strength of the rock and carry out other tests that will allow officials to determine the best design of the tunnel. The completed tunnel will take slightly less than two years to dig.
The Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KRPDA) did not renew the Louisville region’s long-range transportation plan when it expired in December 2009 because there was no source of funding for the Ohio River Bridges Project.30 Because the funding source was a federal requirement, the government gave KRPDA one year to complete the plan. KRPDA replied that they would need a bi-state authority to produce a financing strategy for the project.
In January 2010, Kentucky began the appraisal process for more than 100 properties along the proposed East End and Downtown bridges path.30 By this point, groups opposing tolling of the bridges and those concerned with the cost overruns began dominating the public comments and meetings of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority.17
The Say No to Bridge Tolls group requested to the Kentucky Heritage Council on June 16 that the historic Drumanard estate be de-listed from the National Register of Historic Places in a bid to lower the cost of the entire project by eliminating the Drumanard Tunnel under the Drumanard estate.24 The anti-toll group noted that the estate was “not architecturally or historically significant” and that it included a wooded area that did “not have met the criteria for listing.”
The property was listed on the register in 1983. The register boundaries were expanded in 1992 and included landscaping designed by the firm Frederick Law Olmsted, but that it was completed 26 years after Olmstead’s death. The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. noted that the landscaping was designed by Olmstead’s son, and that any de-listing could “get the ball rolling” on other de-listing proposals for the sake that they are in the wrong location.24 The de-listing proposal did not move forward.
The last legal hurdle for the Ohio River Bridges Project was resolved on July 17, 2013 34 when U.S. District Judge John H. Heyburn II dismissed a lawsuit originally filed in 2009 against the states of Kentucky and Indiana and the federal government by the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART). Louisville conservation group River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation were original plaintiffs but dropped out of the lawsuit earlier in the year. CART made 20 separate claims against the project, challenging the need for the overall bridges project and that tolling was discriminatory against minorities. But in a 59 page ruling, Heyburn noted that the government “reasonably exercised their discretion in making decisions about the project’s scope, design and financing.”
Groundbreaking for the East End Bridge was held on May 29, 2013. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation attended the ceremony in southern Indiana.35
The price tag for the Ohio River Bridges Project dropped from an estimated $2.58 billion to $2.34 billion, a $240 million reduction, due to efficiencies in design and construction.31 The cost reduction reflects changes in inflation due to earlier-than-expected completion targets and differences between pre-bid estimates and actual bid costs.
Walsh Investors, lead contractor for the downtown crossing, proposed a completion of their project by December 9, 2016, or 19 months ahead of schedule.31 33 The amendment would save $90 million. WVB East End Partners, the lead contractor for the East End crossing, proposed a completion of their project by October 31, 2016, or eight months ahead of schedule. The new target date would save $228 million, with the largest savings, $209 million, coming from the reduction of the length of the Drumanard Tunnel from 2,000 feet to 1,800 feet.
- Further Reading
- Designation: Interstate 265
- Crosses: Ohio River
- Bridge Type: Cable-stayed suspension
- Total Length: 2,100 feet
- Main Span Length: 1,200 feet
- Height: 229 feet
- Deck Width: 155 feet
- Shafer, Sheldon S. “Bridge options unveiled.” Courier-Journal (Louisville) July 19, 2006. April 26, 2007 Article.
- “Bridge Type Selection.” The Ohio River Bridges. April 26, 2007 Article.
- Brake, Alan G. “One Bridge, Two Bridge, Old Bridge, New Bridge.” Louisville Magazine, March 2007. April 26, 2007. p. 47.
- Drake, Bob. “Ohio River Bridges Project moves into design phase.” GoBridges.com, February 22, 2007. April 27, 2007 Article.
- “Bridge types selected on Ohio River Bridges Project.” The Ohio River Bridges, December 12, 2006. April 26, 2007 Article.
- Green, Marcus. “Build bridges soon, mayor says.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), January 19, 2007. April 26, 2007.
- “Transportation issues in Louisville, from bikes to bridges.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), March 19, 2007. April 26, 2007.
- Thomas, Larry. “Group hopes to ’86’ I-64 in downtown Louisville.” News and Tribune, August 09, 2006. April 26, 2007, Article.
- Green, Marcus. “Bridge designs in; public’s vote out.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), December 13, 2006. April 26, 2007.
- Shafer, Sheldon S. “3 final options for bridge designs unveiled.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), July 20, 2006. April 26, 2007.
- Green, Marcus. “Relief on way for U.S. 42-Snyder intersection.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), April 26, 2006. April 26, 2007.
- James, Carroll. “$58 million set aside for bridges over Ohio.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), July 30, 2005. April 27, 2007.
- Davis, Alex. “Indiana buys land for bridges project.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), June 12, 2005. April 27, 2007.
- Green, Marcus. “Workers to begin tunnel for new bridge.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), June 5, 2007. June 12, 2007.
- Green, Marcus. “Great Lawn overpass disputed.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), May 15, 2007. June 13, 2007.
- Green, Marcus. “Price tag for bridges: $4.1 billion.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), 2 Oct. 2007. 3 Oct. 2007.
- Green, Marcus. “Bridges plan changes hatched at December meeting in Indianapolis.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 17 Jan. 2011. 2 Feb. 2011.
- Green, Marcus. “Revamped Ohio River bridges plan could face new review.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 18 Jan. 2011. 4 Feb. 2011.
- Hershberg, Ben Zion. “Eastern Bridge | Reducing lanes is mistake, critics say.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 4 Jan. 2011. 4 Feb. 2011.
- Shafer, Sheldon S. “Spaghetti Junction | Parks chief sees need to relocate Extreme Park.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 4 Jan. 2011. 5 Feb. 2011.
- Green, Marcus. “Bridges authority endorses toll-based financial report.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 16 Dec. 2010. 7 Feb. 2011.
- Klepal, Dan. “Metro council passes non-binding resolution opposing tolls on existing bridges.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 23 Sept. 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “Tolls would fund more than half of Ohio River Bridges cost.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 16 July 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “Ohio River Bridges Project shouldn’t protect historic Drumanard home, group says.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 17 June 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “City may pave way on electronic tolling with cashless system.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 6 June 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “Anti-toll groups form in Louisville.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 24 March 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “Diamond interchange planned for So. Indiana project.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 19 Jan. 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “State to delay bond sales for bridges project.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 8 May 2009. 8 Feb. 2011.
- “Louisville bridge plans move ahead.” Associated Press 18 Dec. 2009. 8 Feb. 2011.
- Marcus, Green. “Lack of Ohio River bridges funding plan may threaten area projects.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 19 Jan. 2010. 8 Feb. 2011.
- White, Charlie. “Ohio River bridges price tag slashed by $240 million.” Courier-Journal [Louisville]. 25 Jan. 2014. 8 Oct. 2014.
- Karman III, John R. “Ohio River Bridges project secures low-interest loan.” Business First [Louisville]. 20 Nov. 2013. 8 Oct. 2014.
- Karman III, John R. “Kentucky infrastructure authority approves financing for bridges project.” Business First [Louisville]. 14 Nov. 2013. 8 Oct. 2014.
- Karman III, John R. “Last legal challenge to bridges project dismissed.” Business First [Louisville]. 17 Jul. 2013. 8 Oct. 2014.
- Green, Ed. “East End Bridge work to begin.” Business First [Louisville]. 28 May 2013. 8 Oct. 2014.