By Bridget McCrea
Macario Bernal stood on a new section of Interstate 65 in Louisville, Ky., taking in a sight that he’d been waiting 3 1/2 years to experience in person. Remembering a time when clogged bridges and interchanges made travel in the area a frustrating experience for motorists, Bernal almost couldn’t believe his eyes. One of the region’s most complex and expansive roadway infrastructure projects had been completed ahead of schedule and was ready to make life easier for commuters.
Open to the public
“It was 10 o’clock in the morning on a weekday, and I noticed that two of the new lanes were already open and in use,” said Bernal, quality control manager for Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago. “Just looking at the traffic flow, I could already see that things were moving relatively smoothly.”
Looking to the north, Bernal then fixed his vision on four additional lanes that weren’t even in use yet, realizing that the best was yet to come.
“That’s what really put into perspective just how huge this project was,” said Bernal, whose firm served as the general contractor for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet initiative, a bi-state (with Indiana), $1 billion endeavor known as the Ohio River Bridges project. “At the time, it was pretty awesome to think that, in several months, all of these new lanes would be open and operational.”
The vision hit close to home for Bernal, who has resided in Louisville since the project kicked off in 2013. The result is a new, six-lane Lincoln Bridge, an updated Kennedy Bridge, and a new East End Crossing, which improves interstate connections in Indiana and Kentucky. Reading through Reddit threads about the initiative, he said it was “amazing to see how people were talking about the lanes opening up and how happy they were about it.”
Bernal is happy too. He recently took the East End Crossing on a trip to Chicago and said the bypass reduced his commute by nearly 30 minutes.
“It’s amazing how quickly you can get through the city now and how easily everything flows,” he said.
Equally as amazing is the amount of time it took to improve the Ohio River crossing – an initiative that’s been on the wish list of both Kentucky and Indiana for decades.
“Some of the people here have been waiting 40-plus years for this to happen,” Bernal said.
Those individuals got their wish on Nov. 18 when the Downtown Crossing officially opened. The solution is comprised of the new Abraham Lincoln Bridge (which carries six lanes of northbound I-65 traffic) and the refurbished Kennedy Bridge (six lanes of southbound traffic).
Ahead of schedule, within budget
The project, which hit “substantial completion” in November, was finished a month ahead of schedule. With a lot of work to do within a short time frame, Bernal said the team of contractors, engineers and precasters pushed through and got everything opened up early.
“That was our intent the entire time,” Bernal said. “The workers out in the field did a great job of helping us meet that goal.”
Precast concrete played a key role in hitting the early completion date. Working on their respective parts of the project, A&T Concrete Supply Inc., County Materials Corp., Foster Supply, Gate Precast, Oldcastle Precast, Prestress Services Industries, S&S Precast Inc. and Sherman-Dixie Concrete Industries Inc. (now Forterra), all contributed to the project’s rapidity.
Combined, these manufacturers produced many precast pieces for the project, including 40 acres of mechanically stabilized earth panels; 17 miles of beams; thousands of square feet of deck panels; box culverts and inlets; and reinforced concrete pipe and manholes. According to Bernal, one of the biggest advantages of using precast is that the material requires fewer connections during the prefabrication process.
“The biggest time-saver with precast is that everything comes to the preset and ready to go,” he said. “Without as many connections to make, the amount of labor required to install the pieces is reduced significantly.”
He added that inspection time is also minimized with precast, which presents less potential for errors. This, along with the speed of erection, helped ensure the project moved along at a rapid pace.
Thinking back on the 3 1/2 years that Walsh Construction worked on the Ohio River Bridges project, Bernal said the undertaking – while monumental in scope – went smoothly considering all of the different designs, components and entities involved. He added that the result is nothing less than spectacular, both in terms of its functionality and how it’s been received by motorists.
State and city leaders share Bernal’s enthusiasm for the project, which was not only completed ahead of schedule, but also within budget.
“On behalf of every driver who has been stuck in Spaghetti Junction or who inadvertently found themselves in Indiana,” said Kentucky’s Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton in a local news report, “hallelujah!” (1)
In the same report, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manager Andy Barber said, “We’ve made it easier and safer to cross the Ohio River. We have set the stage for economic growth, better lives and a stronger community.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.