LOUISVILLE — Plans to build two new bridges linking the Louisville area and southern Indiana won federal approval Wednesday, clearing a key remaining hurdle in the long-awaited countdown toward construction of the $2.6 billion project.
The Federal Highway Administration approved the revised plan by Kentucky and Indiana to build the spans, one in downtown Louisville and the other on the east side of the metropolitan area. It also upgrades interchanges.
The latest approval was needed after officials from both states offered changes in early 2011 that would cut spending by more than $1.5 billion and slice construction time in half. It also adds tolls as a funding source.
The two governors hailed the crucial step forward.
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An August groundbreaking is expected for the project's first element — a $5.5 million road extension on the Indiana side that ultimately will connect the River Ridge Commerce Center to Ind. 265 and the future East End bridge, officials said.
Both states have chosen finalists for contracts to build the bridges and plan to award contracts before year's end, officials said. Construction on the main crossings will begin in earnest in early 2013, they said.
Still pending, however, is federal approval for tolls to help pay for the construction.
The plan is to place tolls on the new bridges and the Kennedy Memorial Bridge, which carries traffic over the Ohio River on Interstate 65. The Kennedy Bridge will be reconfigured as part of the project.
Toll rates have not been set.
Under the bistate agreement, Indiana will oversee construction of an East End bridge between Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky., linking the Lee Hamilton Expressway in Indiana and Gene Snyder Freeway in Kentucky. The bridge will complete a loop around the east side of the metropolitan area.
Kentucky will oversee construction of the downtown portion of the project: a new bridge, the reconfigured Kennedy Bridge and upgrades of interchanges on both sides of the river.