Declaring "the road to the region's future starts here," Governor Steve Beshear officially signaled the start of construction on the Downtown Crossing of the Ohio River Bridges Project -- the first new bridge at the Falls of the Ohio in half a century.
Children joined Beshear and other dignitaries for the "community groundbreaking," digging into a large sandpile in Waterfront Park in the shadow of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, which opened just days after the president's 1963 assassination.
Gov. Beshear was joined by Victor Mendez, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth; Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson; Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock; INDOT Deputy Commissioner Jim Stark and a host of federal, state and local leaders.
"Bridges and highways link more than just two banks of a river," Gov. Beshear said. "They connect people and create possibilities. They keep commerce flowing and jobs growing. They preserve our way of life and promise a better tomorrow.
"My friends, the road to the region's future starts here -- and it starts today!"
Gov. Beshear led a countdown to the start of construction, and a towering crane hoisted huge American, Kentucky and Indiana flags high above the assembled crowd. The Belle of Louisville cruised the river, sounding its whistle and calliope to celebrate the history-making moment.
Minutes later, the official groundbreaking took place with leaders using full-size shovels and children digging in with commemorative sandbox-size shovels. Hundreds took home keepsake tokens -- bearing the day's date and Commonwealth of Kentucky seal -- that were buried in the sandpile.
"Today marks a historic advancement for the Ohio River Bridges Project and for the future of our region," said Congressman John Yarmuth, who worked with President Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to expedite the federal approval process for the project. "The Downtown Bridge will modernize our infrastructure for the 21st century, further securing our standing as a national hub for logistics and commerce, spurring new growth for our businesses, and creating thousands of good-paying jobs for local residents."
"Bridges capture our imaginations because they connect us. They bring us together," said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. "They are physical manifestations of human power and imagination, of engineering and artistry. This new downtown bridge will better connect our region and our people."
Hundreds of workers from Walsh Construction and its subcontractors will work simultaneously on all three sections of the Downtown Crossing -- building a new I-65 bridge parallel to the Kennedy, reconstructing the downtown Louisville interchange known as Spaghetti Junction and rebuilding the interstate connections in Jeffersonville in Southern Indiana.
The new bridge, which will carry six lanes of northbound traffic, will work in tandem with a revamped Kennedy Bridge, which will be converted to six lanes of southbound traffic, to expand cross-river capacity to relieve congestion and improve safety.
The Downtown Crossing is one half of the Ohio River Bridges Project, a bi-state transportation investment that includes a new East End Crossing near Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., a bridge and highway connections that will complete a modern, outer highway loop around the region.