The I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge over the Ohio River between Southern Indiana and Louisville, KY, has been reopened to traffic, according to the Indiana Dept. of Transportation (INDOT), ending a five-month traffic nightmare caused by the emergency closing of the Interstate crossing between Louisville and New Albany, IN.

The Sherman Minton’s closing led to drastic changes for truckers and commuters throughout the Louisville area, but especially in Southern Indiana, according to a report in the Courier-Journal. Traffic accidents on I-65 rose 20% from September 2011 through January, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

INDOT warned that motorists should stay alert when driving through the area as drivers get accustomed to the new traffic pattern.

And although the bridge has reopened, construction has not yet been completed. Subcontractors will still need to finish painting the new steel plates and remove working platforms attached to the bridge, INDOT reported.

During off-peak hours, one lane of eastbound I-64 will be temporarily closed on the lower deck of the bridge entering Louisville from New Albany throughout the next month or so. All lanes will be open each weekday morning for peak traffic between 6 and 9 a.m.

The bridge was closed Sept. 9 after a significant crack was discovered in a load-carrying element of the bridge. Extensive inspection, testing and analysis recommended reinforcing the bridge with steel plates, which is anticipated to extend the service life of the bridge at least 20 years.

The work was completed two weeks ahead of schedule. Incentives, favorable weather conditions and efficient work by contractors reduced repairs from an estimated six months to less than four months.

“Thanks to the workers, contractors, and the people of INDOT, the Sherman Minton Bridge is back in operation, 12 days ahead of the target date. We’ve never been happier to pay a contractor incentive dollars for an ahead-of-schedule performance. And thanks also to all the citizens who endured so much inconvenience in order to make 100% sure that no one was ever put at risk,” said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Hall Contracting of Louisville is expected to receive $1.3 million in incentives for reopening the bridge to traffic early.

“It’s a relief to have the Sherman Minton Bridge restored and reopened, ready to safely carry thousands of commuters each day. Kentuckians and Hoosiers have shown outstanding patience and cooperation during the repair process, and I applaud Louisville-based Hall Contracting for completing this massive project early. The bridge is a vital route for commerce for both of our states, and we welcome its return,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.