A panoramic view from the new downtown bridge | By Caitlin Bowling

A panoramic view from the new downtown bridge | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

For decades, a new bridge has been near the top of some legislators’ annual Christmas lists, and finally this Christmas, Santa Claus is going to deliver.

It will hardly fit under the Christmas tree, but I’m sure it will be decorated in ribbon to mark the occasion. The new I-65 bridge, which has been under construction since summer 2013, will open to two-way traffic before Dec. 25.

“I am here this morning to apologize. We were wrong. We were not optimistic enough,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, remarking that the new bridge will open about four months ahead of schedule and under budget.

The project has moved ahead faster than scheduled, Beshear said, because the original plans were changed. Rather than closing parts of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge at the same time for work, downtown construction workers have been focusing solely on the new bridge.

Beshear and other dignitaries present during the bridge announcement this morning thanked the politicians and construction workers who made the bridge a reality. For decades, it was a “nebulous vision,” Beshear said.

Chicago-based Walsh Construction Co. is overseeing the entire project as well as the East End Bridge construction and other elements.

The new bridge downtown will open around Christmas time. | By Caitlin Bowling

The new bridge downtown will open around Christmas time. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said he was recording video during the drive onto the bridge.

“It’s amazing what we are doing here today, and all the people from Walsh and all their employees, they have become great neighbors,” he said. “They have become part of our community. They have helped sustain our businesses. I am thrilled to be here.”

The new bridge is expected to ease transportation through the region, add to the quality of life and increase the amount of freight traffic that traverses the Kentucky-Indiana state line, said Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.

“It is one of the most heavily traveled interstates in the United States, especially for freight traffic,” she said.

Before it opens to traffic, Louisville and Jeffersonville will host a “Walk the Bridge” celebration, allowing people to take a look at the new bridge up close. More details about that event will be released in the coming weeks.

When the new bridge does open, traffic will shift off the Kennedy Bridge, which will then undergo more than $22 million in improvements, including a new flooring system to ensure the bridge’s long-term stability.

For a month, a single lane on the Kennedy Bridge will remain open to people accessing I-64 or I-71 North, but that, too, will eventually close. The bridge will be totally shut down for about six months, with a reopening date to be sometime in late 2016.

One of the last pieces that needs to be resolved is the name of the new bridge. Beshear said there is no timeline for when a name will be chosen.

“We are still working on it,” he said. “We really haven’t put 10 minutes of thought into it.”