Scores of Kentuckians, Hoosiers trek across new Abraham Lincoln Bridge ahead of Monday opening

12/05/2015 04:40 PM

After more than two hours in temperatures hovering near 30 degrees, the more than 10,000 pedestrians who bundled up on a foggy Saturday morning were eager to take a closer look at the Abraham Lincoln Bridge connecting downtown Louisville with Jeffersonville, Ind.

But given the years it took to complete the Ohio River bridge, officials were just as eager to make sure everyone who helped make the project a reality received their due.

“Hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime time, so just a few more minutes,” Beshear told the wailing crowd within earshot after he read a statement from former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and before he introduced U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez.

The downtown Louisville bridge, which has been under construction since 2013, is set to open for traffic along Interstate 65 on Monday, but officials gave pedestrians the first chance to cross the 2,100-foot-long span on Saturday.

“It’s the first new crossing at the Falls of the Ohio in 52 year years,” Beshear said, referencing the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge’s opening weeks after the namesake president’s assassination in 1963.

“As you can tell, it’s made of concrete and steel and it is a very sturdy bridge, but what makes it sturdy is not only the material that you see. It is also the material that you don’t see because this bridge was built by hopes and dreams, by vision and revision, by disagreement and compromise, by determination and innovation, by sweat and tears, and by hearts and hands. It took hundreds of hard-working men and women to turn endless talk into something you can walk and drive across.”

The Lincoln bridge is part of the $1.3 billion downtown crossing, which will eventually include a revamped Kennedy bridge that runs parallel and will carry southbound I-65 traffic along with improved interchanges in Kentucky and Indiana. The Lincoln bridge will eventually take all northbound I-65 traffic, but for now, the bridge will take three lands of northbound traffic and later this month, two lanes of southbound traffic as improvements to the Kennedy begin.

The downtown crossing represents half of the Ohio River Bridges project, which includes a still-under-construction East End crossing that will cost more than $1 billion and extend the Gene Snyder Freeway near Prospect to Utica, Ind.

Traffic is expected to begin crossing the Lincoln bridge around 5 a.m. Monday.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said both the downtown and East End bridges will provide “incalculable impact” on the region’s economy and noted the bipartisan effort between top leaders in Kentucky and Indiana.

Daniels, Pence’s predecessor and current president of Purdue University, wanted to attend Saturday’s ribbon-cutting but could not fly into the area due to heavy fog, which began to dissipate as the event began, according to Beshear.

“I am most inspired by the example of collaboration and cooperation these two bridges represent for our two states,” Pence said. “Thanks to the vision and the determination of two governors, these two bridges, discussed for decades, will inspire investment and growth for generations.”

Aside from Beshear, Pence and Mendez, other officials in attendance Saturday included Gov.-elect Matt Bevin, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and former Lt. Gov. and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Beshear presented Pence and Bevin a pair of scissors to cut the ribbon on the East End bridge, which is scheduled to be open to traffic next year.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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