I-64 bridge over Ohio River could be closed 6 months

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan said Sunday he expected the Sherman Minton Bridge carrying Interstate 64 over the Ohio River will remain closed for at least six months, and officials on both sides of the river announced traffic changes to deal with the added congestion on two remaining spans.

Galligan gave that time line to the News and Tribune after talks with Indiana and Kentucky officials. He said Gov. Mitch Daniels "made the right decision" when he closed the bridge connecting New Albany with Louisville on Friday after cracks were found in it.

"After he reviewed the inspection report, he had no choice but to close the Sherman Minton Bridge, because the bridge was going to fail," Galligan said.

The bridge, which opened in 1962, carried about 89,000 vehicles a day, and now an estimated 80,000 vehicles per day will be added to the Kennedy Bridge on I-65 and the Clark Memorial Bridge on U.S. 31. Both spans connect Jeffersonville and Louisville.

"The Kennedy and Clark Memorial bridges are not designed to handle this much traffic, but we've got no other alternatives," Galligan said.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said the only time line the agency had for the bridge closure was that it would remain closed for three weeks for inspection, analysis and testing.

The News and Tribune said local officials estimated that during Monday's morning rush hour, southbound traffic on I-65 would back up 9 miles north of the Ohio River and that eastbound traffic on I-64 would back up 3 miles.

Indiana State Police said neither traffic experts nor police knew how bad backups would be.

"The first couple of days will be trying for (motorists) and everyone is encouraged to remain calm and be courteous," Sgt. Jerry Goodin said in a news release. Goodin suggested motorists carpool and use public transportation, avoid peak travel times, and access I-65 in Indiana as far north as possible. He said local motorists should use county roads and back roads as much as possible

Galligan said motorists east of the metropolitan area who need to go to downtown Louisville should consider crossing the river at Madison, about 35 miles to the northeast.

In a major change for Louisville motorists, drivers on westbound I-64 won't be able to exit to I-65. The change, applied around the clock, attempts to reduce congestion in the city's "Spaghetti Junction" intersection. Motorists were advised to use I-71 instead.

"We are doing everything we can to make the situation as workable as possible," Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said. "But we expect some issues."

From 6 to 10 a.m., three lanes of the Clark Memorial Bridge's four lanes will be reserved for southbound traffic. From 3 to 7 p.m., three lanes will be reserved for northbound traffic.

From 6 to 10 a.m., the ramp from I-65 northbound to I-64 east will be reduced from two to one lanes, allowing traffic coming off the Kennedy Bridge southbound to enter I-64 east without having to merge with other traffic.

New Albany, meanwhile, reopened its downtown exit from I-64 on a trial basis for up to three days. Mayor Doug England said the exit was essential for many New Albany businesses and residents.