By Baylee Pulliam–

There’s no traffic on the Sherman Minton Bridge. And, according to some, there won’t be for quite a while.

The bridge, which carries Interstate 64 traffic between southern Indiana and Louisville, has been closed in both directions since Sept. 9 after two cracks were discovered in the load-bearing part of the bridge’s structure.

“With what we’ve learned here in the last week…there’s no question that the responsible thing to do was to close the bridge until we can determine what actually needs to be done to repair the bridge,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in a Sept. 17 briefing.
According to a report issued to Kentucky and Indiana lawmakers on Sept. 14, Federal Highway Administration investigators say repairs could take anywhere from two months to two years. The actual time will depend on the severity of the cracks and other problems, which further testing is needed to determine.

The closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, one of the only three bridges linking the Kentucky and Indiana banks of the Ohio River locally, has increased the traffic through the Clark Memorial Bridge, Kennedy Bridge and Spaghetti Junction. It has also significantly increased the commute time for some southern Indiana residents who work and go to school in Louisville.

Dustin Jiles, a University of Louisville student who lives and works in New Albany, said his morning commute has gone from around 15 minutes to around an hour.

“It’s really been a struggle,” said Jiles, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. Jiles works three 12-hour shifts a week at Samtec, a company based in New Albany, Ind. He said his shift ends at 6 a.m., which leaves him with just an hour before the start of his 7 a.m. class at U of L’s Belknap campus. Jiles said his professors have been understanding, but he will have to take traffic into consideration when scheduling classes in the future.

According to the U of L website, 1,039 students enrolled in the university hailed from southern Indiana in fall of 2010, the last year for which data is available. While some of those students move closer to campus for school, many, like Jiles, commute.

Shelby Jenkins said her commute from New Albany as much as tripled following the closure. “I try to avoid the traffic as much as possible,” said Jenkins, a sophomore nursing major. Jenkins said she commuted via the 2nd Street Bridge and not the Sherman Minton Bridge, “but the traffic overflow has been bad.”

To sidestep the traffic, Jenkins said she has been staying with a friend who lives in Louisville. She said she is looking into moving closer to campus.

Many U of L students will need to adjust until the bridge is repaired, or until another long-term solution is put into place.

But according to officials, the closure is for the best.

“This isn’t elective surgery– we have to do this,” said Representative John Yarmuth at the Sept. 17 briefing. “It is essentially a life-threatening situation in terms of regional commerce. We have to do this.”

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Photo:Nathan Gardener/The Louisville Cardinal