Motorists traveling Monday between Indiana and Kentucky became mired for miles in unfamiliar travel patterns and few alternatives as the emergency closure of a bridge crossing the Ohio River left only two spans remaining, detouring tens of thousands.
It's a reality that drivers need to adjust to, as the Sherman Minton Bridge will likely be closed for a while, said Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin.
"What we saw today is going to be the norm, until we get that Sherman Minton Bridge opened up," Goodin said Monday.
In a move Friday that stunned commuters on both sides of the river, officials abruptly closed the 50-year-old span when inspectors found cracks in the bridge's steel. The shutdown forced traffic over the John F. Kennedy Bridge, which carries Interstate 65 across the river, and the Clark Memorial Bridge from downtown Louisville to southern Indiana.
The bridge closure came just one day after President Barack Obama urged Congress in a nationally televised speech to pass his jobs bill, which includes funding for infrastructure projects. However, the bridge Obama specifically cited in the speech as in dire need of repair was the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge that spans the Ohio River connecting Kentucky to southern Ohio.
Mike Hancock, head of the Kentucky Department of Transportation, said at a news conference Monday that despite having to carry the load of more than 80,000 vehicles that normally would travel over the closed Sherman Minton Bridge, the two spans doing the work pose no structural concerns.
Hancock and other officials also said they will be closely watching the afternoon commute from Louisville, Ky., into southern Indiana. Hancock added that officials hope to know the extent of the problem within three weeks and have an estimate of how long it will take to do repairs.
But, the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge has commuters adjusting schedules to accommodate what is now a long commute.
"It was better than I anticipated, but I left really, really early," said Chasity Grauel, of Corydon, Ind., the human resources director at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, a Louisville law firm. "That's leaving nearly an hour and a half sooner than I normally do."
Grauel said her usual 15-minute commute took 45 minutes, but other commuters said their normally short drives were up to two hours. Some rode bikes, while still others left so early in the morning they planned to sleep in their vehicles until it was time to start their shifts.
Randy Cissell, a video producer at the University of Louisville, said his normal 20-minute commute from New Albany, Ind., to Louisville took two hours Monday. Cissell plans to leave earlier on Tuesday, but figures adjustments and long drives are now part of the norm.
"We've got work to do here," Cissell said. "I'm just going to have to deal with it."
Employers throughout Louisville were faced with the challenge of how to best deal with a situation not likely to change anytime soon. Officials said it will take three weeks just to diagnose the problems, and a closure of six months or more is possible.
Grauel said she helped contact the roughly 25 employees of her law firm that live in Indiana on Sunday, telling them to come in early or late, but try to avoid driving into Louisville between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. EDT. The firm also installed several new computers at its New Albany offices and is allowing some people to work there, she said.
David McArthur, a spokesman for the University of Louisville hospital, said no surgeries or medical procedures have been delayed or canceled because of the bridge closure.
"They may have had to do a little more work until a co-worker arrives, but that's about it," McArthur said.
Mike Mangeot, a spokesman for UPS in Louisville, said the company doesn't plan to make any changes to operating schedules or delivery routes. But some interstate tractor-trailer traffic has been adjusted to account for the shutdown.
The provost at the University of Louisville sent a memo to faculty and staff Sunday, urging them to "be understanding" if students and employees are "a little late for the next few days." The university has 680 employees in the counties directly affected by the bridge closure and about 1,301 students who are affected by the shutdown, said university spokesman Mark Hebert.
"Repairing the bridge will be a long-term issue, not a quick fix," Shirley C. Willihnganz said in the memo. "With planning, a little patience and some teamwork we can ensure its impact on our classes and operations will not be too harsh."
Kentucky and Indiana officials have for years discussed plans to build two new bridges linking southern Indiana and the Louisville area.
Associated Press writer Brett Barrouquere is on Twitter: http://Twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP