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Motorists celebrate bridge reopening

One-hundred-sixty-one days, 2.5 million pounds of steel, 68,000 bolts, nuts and washers and one big, well-deserved exhale from Hall Contracting workers Friday night marked the end of the Sherman Minton Bridge closure.
The bridge, which closed late afternoon on Sept. 9 after a significant crack was discovered on a load-bearing beam, reopened to Interstate 64 traffic nine minutes before midnight Friday. As part of an incentive package to get the bridge opened early, the nine minutes was worth $100,000 (the amount awarded for each day the bridge opened before a March 2 deadline) and pushed the total bonus for Hall Contracting to $1.3 million.
With the exception of painting steel reinforcement plates and removing working platforms, Hall Contracting ‘ which in October won the bid to repair the bridge at a cost of $13.9 million ‘ completed the work in just 122 days. The steel was installed in half that time.
Extensive inspection, testing and analysis recommended reinforcing the bridge with steel plates, which is anticipated to extend the service life of the bridge at least 20 years.
‘Re-opening this early is huge. We placed 2.5 million pounds of steel in less than 60 days, and we handled it sometimes two and three times, so actually we handled probably six million pounds of steel in that time frame,’ Randy Downey, Hall Contracting project manager, said. ‘I know I haven’t had a day off since Dec. 1, and there are other guys who aren’t far behind that.’
Downey said that though he was apprehensive about the deadline to start the project, about two or three weeks ago he and other Hall officials believed they could be done about two weeks early.
‘Each day has been a process of receiving plates, drilling holes in the plates and putting the bolts in. So, 68,000 bolts took this many days,’ Tom Roberts, Hall Contracting vice president, said. ‘We’ve been working since November, so we’re tickled. It’s a huge accomplishment.’
About the only time off for Hall Contracting employees, who worked 12-hour shifts, was the Christmas holiday and when crews were forced from the bridge during a tornado warning.
‘Thanks to the workers, contractor, and the people of (the Indiana Department of Transportation), the Sherman Minton Bridge is back in operation, 12 days ahead of the target date,’ Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a press release. ‘We’ve never been happier to pay a contractor incentive dollars for an ahead-of-schedule performance. And thanks also to all the citizens who endured so much inconvenience in order to make 100-percent sure that no one was ever put at risk.’
Valla Ann Marcus, owner of the Admiral Bicknell Inn in New Albany, was the first person to cross the bridge from the eastbound side in Indiana. As part of a fundraiser for Brandon’s House, she paid $250 in a silent auction for the right to be first in line. She and dozens of others lined up Friday at the Waffle House next to the bridge in New Albany for what seemed more like a festive football game tailgate party than a bridge re-opening.
‘I had actually planned to have a bridge walk fundraiser last Sunday and got the OK from everyone but INDOT to hold it,’ said Marcus, who also works with Brandon’s House. ‘This was the next best thing.’
As she and others crossed from the Indiana side, and others crossed the upper deck on the westbound side, car horns and cheers from happy motorists could be heard at the amphitheater in New Albany. Hall Contracting workers were seen giving high-fives and shaking hands with one another as a line of traffic on Spring Street worked its way onto the bridge as well.
When asked if Hall Contracting would be putting in a bid to work on the pot-hole-ridden Kennedy Bridge, Downey laughed.
‘I think I’m going to sleep for about two days before I even think about working on another bridge,’ Downey said.
During off-peak hours, one lane of eastbound I-64 will be temporarily closed on the lower deck of the bridge entering Louisville from New Albany. All lanes will be open each weekday morning for peak traffic between 6 and 9. Temperature-sensitive painting operations will occur during 30 work days as weather permits this winter and spring.