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8/6/2017 12:52:00 PM
No front-runner among final I-69 routes between Evansville and Henderson, Ky.
Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for I-69 Ohio River Crossing discusses the status of the project last week during an open house at Milestones in Evansville. Photo: I-69 Ohio River Crossing
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Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for I-69 Ohio River Crossing discusses the status of the project last week during an open house at Milestones in Evansville. Photo: I-69 Ohio River Crossing

John Martin, Evansville Courier & Press

If you're wondering why two of the three remaining proposed routes for an Interstate 69 bridge over the Ohio River would eliminate the twin bridges, there are about 50 million reasons.

State transportation offices in Indiana and Kentucky since 2005 have spent about $50 million to maintain the bridges and their approaches. That includes routine maintenance and major repairs.

The hefty cost isn't the only factor in deciding a cross-river route for I-69, but it is high on the list, officials said last week.

Those officials, however, also said there is no front-runner among the three proposed routes -- West Corridor 1, West Corridor 2 and Central Corridor 1.

The two west routes are proposed near the existing U.S. 41 path between Indiana and Kentucky, and both would put the twin bridges -- built in 1965 and 1932 -- out of use.

The proposed central route is east of Ellis Park, loops around the eastern edge of Henderson, reconnecting with what will eventually be known as I-69 at a new interchange south of U.S. 60. The central route plan does not currently state an outcome for the twin bridges, leaving open the possibility that at least one could remain in use. 

Bridges are built for a life span of 75 to 100 years, so the U.S. 41 twins are at a critical stage, said Gary Valentine, project administrator with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

"They are getting to a point in their life expectancy where they require a lot of care to keep up operations," Valentine said. "In doing I-69, we can't turn a blind eye to what may happen to those bridges over the next 35 years or so, which is what we're basing I-69 traffic projections on. We have to understand what costs are we going to incur over that 35-year period to keep those bridges safe and operational." 

The bridge route selection process is being steered by a bi-state group called I-69 Ohio River Crossing. West Corridor 1, the group says, would impact residences along U.S. 41, while West Corridor 2 would impact several businesses and a few residences along U.S. 41.

Both west routes involves construction of a six-lane bridge and have some modest impact on nature presentation areas.

Central Corridor 1 has the fewest residential relocations and no business relocations and impacts a forested wetland in the Ohio River bottoms, according to I-69 Ohio River Crossing. The proposed route resembles a traditional highway, with a grassy median, and the bridge would be four lanes.

The two west corridors would cost from $910 million to just over $1 billion, while the Central Corridor is projected to cost $740 to $860 million. Tolling is expected to be part of the funding package.

Local elected officials and business groups in both states support Central Corridor 1. Groups in favor of that route include I-69 BridgeLink, Kyndle and the Warrick County Chamber of Commerce. Those groups said they would like to see at least one of the two twin bridges remain in use, allowing commuters to cross the river at two points.

Diverting commercial traffic off the twins might extend their lifespan and lower the maintenance costs, those officials suggested.

At the meetinigs last week, many residents said they also like Central Corridor 1. Fred and Linda Cooper live on Fryer Drive in Henderson, and they said either of the west corridors are a problem for them.

"I want them to start looking at the impact on people and not animals," Linda Cooper said.

"If they're going to build a parkway, they need a good parkway,' Fred Cooper added.

Cora Byrer of Henderson and her son, Marvin Byrer of Evansville, agreed with the Coopers.

"(The west routes) just seem like they would cause so much disruptions for business and homes It would be hard on them and hard for people traveling back and forth across the bridge." Cora Byrer said. "It's hard now."

I-69 Ohio River Crossing intends this winter to discuss progress on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The preferred route alternative is to be identified by summer or fall 2018, with a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision announced by fall 2019.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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