Social justice advocate Cathy Hinko said she believes the Sherman Minton Renewal, slated to begin in 2021, will have a negative impact on low-income residents in Louisville and Southern Indiana.
The Sherman Minton Renewal could take up to three years to complete and will cost more than $90 million. The Indiana Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet hosted two public feedback sessions this week, one on Tuesday in New Albany and another on Thursday at the Chestnut Street Family YMCA where Hinko raised her concerns.
“The neighborhoods in west Louisville are extremely segregated, as a result, deprived of easy access to retail and to grocery stores. Frequently, they pop over to New Albany for that access. So, what’s going to happen when the Sherman Minton is closed is those neighborhoods are going to be even more isolated from shops, food and entertainment,” said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, citing expected lane closures and shutdowns of the Interstate 64 bridge associated with the renewal project.
Part of the reason such extensive repairs are needed, Hinko said, is because Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials underestimated the impact that the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project would have on the 56-year old Sherman Minton and the 89-year old George Rogers Clark Memorial bridges, which remain the only two non-tolled bridges in the area.
The Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project Post Construction Traffic Monitoring Study, released in August, found that traffic on the Sherman Minton has increased by about 23 percent since 2013 to about 90,000 vehicles a day in 2018. That represents half the vehicles crossing the Ohio River each day.
Traffic on the Clark Memorial bridge has increased 75 percent to more than 44,000 vehicles. Insider reported in May about complaints of congestion caused by painting and repairs that began on the bridge in 2017.
KYTC spokeswoman Andrea Clifford said at Thursday’s meeting that the $27.9 million Clark Memorial project will be done in 2019, so that bridge can absorb more of the traffic from the Sherman Minton.
Mary Jo Hamman of Michael Baker International, an INDOT consultant, said Kentucky and Indiana officials realize how important the non-tolled bridges are to large segments of the community in Louisville and Southern Indiana. To mitigate the pain to commuters, she said, the project is being developed under a “Design-Build Best Value” scenario, where the states will hire the quickest and most effective contractor, not necessarily the cheapest.
“Most public works projects are put out under a scenario where we look at lowest cost. Because this bridge carries so much traffic and has such an impact on the communities on both sides of the river, we understand that in this case, it’s not only a function of dollars, but it’s a function of time,” Hamman said.
“It’s important to recognize all of these impacts are temporary,” Hamman continued. “The definition of temporary is going to be determined as part of the way we look to contract this. One of the keys that we are tasked with is finding the smartest way to do this, to get the most work done, to the least impact, to the traffic.”
Hinko said that the failure five years ago to anticipate the strain increased traffic and tolls would place on the aging Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges will continue to necessitate more costly repairs in the future.
INDOT project manager Ron Heustis told Insider that the Sherman Minton Renewal will extend the life of the span of the bridge by 30 years until about 2051. At that point, he said, transportation officials will have to reassess the situation.
The renovations planned include replacing the concrete bridge decks, structural steel and hanger cables. There will also be new lighting, drainage repairs and painting done on the bridge.
The project also calls for some repairs to be done on three other bridges on Interstate 64 within the three-mile corridor from Interstate 265 to Interstate 264. Heustis said this work will be done in coordination with the repairs on the Sherman Minton to cause less strain on commuters.
Even when there is a closure on the Sherman Minton, Heustis said, commuters would have 21 other lanes to use to cross the Ohio River.
Sherman Minton Renewal spokesperson Andrea Brady said the renovation plans are still a work in progress and it’s too early to say how the project will affect the community.
“It’s all about public involvement right now because public input is very important to this process. No decisions have been made. There will be a range of options explored. We will also entertain innovative ideas from the contractors,” Brady explained.
The public meetings were held this week as part of the environmental study process. Brady said there will be opportunities for public input as the project proceeds, but residents can also leave comments on the project’s website.
David Coyte, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, said he thinks the dollars being invested in bridge construction and repairs would be better spent on a light rail system that crossed the river.