EDITORIAL: Don’t look the other way

Here’s hoping officials do the right thing with JFK Bridge

Bill Wilson / January 06, 2012

An old, but still needed, receipt is a great find.
It is for me, because these days I need a navigation unit just to get to my shoes. It’s like these items go away for Navy Seal reconnaissance mission training, and when they come back are experts at blending in with whatever scenery is around them. I can stare right at them and see anything but what I am looking for. So, yes, locating a white, crumpled-up piece of paper with a dollar sign and numbers on it so I can complete my company expense report is a major score.
My wife has resorted to giving me 15-step (or 20, whatever it takes) directions taking me through every turn and around every kid toy en route to pinpointing whatever it is she wants me to retrieve. Just the other day it was Christmas cards, which were down in our massive, dark basement. Unless this thing had teeth and could land jumps precisely on top of human noses I was in some serious trouble, but then she rattled off one of her verbal paths.
“Go downstairs, turn right, go all the way to the front of the house, see the racks on the right, turn on the light switch and they are one shelf down in the middle. Oh, and they are labeled ‘Christmas Cards.’”
OK, we all know my vision skills, and yet this woman also relies on those devices on the side of my head, bookends to that finely tuned computer processor. Luckily, this time I was more like a Navy Seals’ guided missile instead of an Iraqi scud.
Assign me the task of seeking out misplaced commas and it’s an entirely different hunt. After all, it is my profession. Still, even though it is their trade, I do marvel at the marksmanship of bridge inspectors. They can find a half-inch deficiency buried in a thick coat of corrosion.
So when I saw a Louisville Courier-Journal investigative report on the John F. Kennedy Bridge, which carries I-65 over the Ohio River, my sensors, however corroded they may be these days, immediately went up. Both the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet have had the sharp public eye on them since last September, when the “discovery” of 2-in. cracks forced officials to shut down the Sherman-Minton Bridge, which is not too far from the JFK span.
According to the Courier-Journal, a fall 2010 inspection revealed possible cracks in key support beams on the JFK, a fracture-critical structure. Apparently four new ones surfaced and the condition of the bridge has been deteriorating. Inspections in both 2008 and 2010 downgraded the superstructure from a satisfactory rating, a grade it held for the last two decades, to a fair standing.
The Courier-Journal tried to do its due diligence, interviewing out-of-state engineers. It was obvious what the newspaper was fishing for, but it never did pull in a trophy. Every discussion with just about every expert ended with a “yes, the bridge does have to be watched, but it should not be closed.”
I am not so sure how closely transportation officials are monitoring the spans over the Ohio in that region, because when I interviewed an Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman on repairs being done on the Sherman-Minton Bridge I asked if other spans were inspected. After describing the Sherman-Minton as a special case, he never did answer the question.
I asked our readers if the JFK Bridge should be closed due to the discovery of possible cracks, and 59% of them said we should put trust in the DOTs to make the right decision. With the Sherman-Minton Bridge getting bandaged up, officials can ill afford to lose the services of another major span that pours into a major city. Bridge inspectors will make the right call here, won’t they? I am hoping they will find a way. R&B

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