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Contractor gets March deadline to fix closed Ohio River bridge

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Indiana on Tuesday awarded a $13.9 million contact to repair a closed Ohio River bridge linking southern Indiana and northern Kentucky to a Louisville-based company that promised to have the nearly 50-year-old span reopened by early March.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Hall Contracting of Kentucky has committed to finishing the work to reinforce the Sherman Minton Bridge in 135 work days, with March 2 as the "target date" for completion. If it meets that goal, the double-decker bridge that links New Albany and Louisville will have been closed nearly six months by the time it reopens.

Hall Contacting, whose bid was the lowest among the four companies that bid on the project, also proposed the fastest time schedule for making the repairs, at 135 days. Its bid was $2.5 million less than the next highest bidder and has a 15-day shorter work completion time frame.

Daniels said the cost and time-frame for completion outlined in the four bids were considered along with the credibility, "the fitness and appropriateness" and other factors outlined in each of the bids.

The governor said he was "very pleasantly surprised" that the winning bid was well below the $20 million initial estimate for the repairs.

"But money was never the issue really to us. Safety was the first issue and speed of reopening the bridge the second issue," Daniels said. "What I'm really excited about is 135 days and the possibility of maybe beating that by a day or two or three."

Indiana and Kentucky will each pay about $5.2 million toward the project to add about 2.4 million pounds of new steel plating along both sides of the bridge ties that run horizontally along the upstream and downstream sides of the 1,600-foot bridge.

The federal government is expected to pay about $3.4 million, or a quarter of the costs, Daniels said.

The governor said the work will result in a much stronger bridge, adding at least 20 more years to the life of the span, which opened in 1962.

Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline said the company is expected to receive full authorization to begin work Wednesday on reinforcing the bridge with the plating.

Indiana, which oversees the maintenance of the span, ordered the bridge closed Sept. 9 at Daniels' direction after a 2 1/2-inch-long crack was found in a steel support beam.

Inspectors later found more cracks in the bridge, which carries Interstate 64 across the river and had been used each day by about 80,000 cars. The closure has funneled traffic onto the area's two other Ohio River bridges, creating longer rush-hour delays.

If the bridge reopens before the 135 work days outlined in its bid, Hall Contracting will receive a $100,000 financial reward for each day that it beats that deadline. That incentive is capped at $5 million, or 50 days, before the target reopening date.

The company would alternately face penalties of $100,000 per day for each day after the 135 work day time-frame the project is not completed, said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield. However, he said the company would not be penalized for delays caused by severe winter weather such as frigid or icy conditions that would make working on the bridge unsafe.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said he's pleased the winning contract's cost is significantly less than the original estimate and also happy that the work should be complete about six weeks earlier than had been expected.

"We are eager to see repair work begin and even more anxious to see the Sherman Minton Bridge reopened to the businesses and commuters who rely on it daily," Beshear said in a statement.

Wingfield said it's unclear how many jobs the project would create in the southern Indiana and Louisville area. A message seeking comment from Hall Contracting was not immediately returned Tuesday.

He said the three other companies making bids were American Bridge Co. of Coraopolis, Penn., which entered a $16.4 million, 195-day repair proposal; Walsh Construction Co. of Crown Point, Ind., which proposed an $17.2 million, 150-day offer; and F.H. Paschen/S.N. Nielsen & Associates, a Chicago firm that entered a $23.9 million, 240-day repair bid.

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