Federal, Indiana and Kentucky officials were on hand to officially break ground on the first phase of the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges project that officials said will dramatically improve the Kennedy Interchange where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 meet in downtown Louisville and the existing Kennedy Bridge that carries I-65 traffic.

The bridges project involves construction of new bridges across the Ohio River between downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville, IN, and between Prospect, KY, and Utica, IN. 

The highway improvement project will improve cross-river mobility and increase safety in one of the nation’s most congested and important highway corridors.

The first construction phase of the major project – a 3,000-ft. extension of Old Salem Road - was celebrated at a ground-breaking ceremony Aug. 30. When the East End Crossing opens to traffic in 2017, Old Salem Road will be the first exit on the Indiana side of the river, providing improved access to the River Ridge Commerce Center and the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, where the ground breaking ceremony was held.

Each state is responsible for procuring and overseeing construction of a portion of the $2.6 billion project.  Indiana is responsible for the East End Crossing and Kentucky is responsible for the Downtown Crossing.

By year’s end, both Indiana and Kentucky are expected to select contracting teams that will build each state’s portion of the project.  Construction on both bridges is slated to begin in 2013. The East End Crossing is expected to open in 2017 and the Downtown Crossing in 2018.

“Decades of waiting for greater convenience and quality of life in the metro area will soon be over, but that’s only part of what’s ahead: Southern Indiana has tremendous economic prospects, and these new bridges are the key to making them real,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said.

“We have reached this milestone because we worked together – across state lines and party lines and bottom lines – to do the right thing for the citizens of Kentucky and Indiana,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said. “As a result, we will keep the traffic flowing and our region growing with new jobs, new businesses and new opportunities.”

“The bridges we are building are not just physical – they’re also emotional and personal because they connect both sides of the river and, ultimately, they reduce the distance between us,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “They’re also about jobs – the construction jobs created today and the job growth the bridges will spur tomorrow and for decades to come.

Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Inc. of Clarksville, Ind., was awarded a $3.2 million design/build contract earlier this month and has already begun performing final road and bridge design. Construction begins this fall with the Old Salem Road extension scheduled to open in June of 2013.