LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
For the downtown half of the Ohio River Bridges Project, that Chinese proverb took the form of heavy equipment beginning the demolition of a century old building to clear a path for the widening of I-65.
"Today, we take a very visible and tangible step that makes clear to both beleaguered commuters and eager business officials that the downtown crossing is going to happen," said Governor Steve Beshear (D-Kentucky) at a morning news conference.
Shortly thereafter, Beshear led officials and reporters on a one-block walk to the rear of the Vermont-American complex for the demolition to begin. Approximately two-thirds of the former tool manufacturing complex will be demolished to make room for a feeder ramp from I-64 to I-65 Southbound.
The property's previous owner - the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation - will pay for the environmental clean-up of the heavy metals left behind, the state said.
The demolition work by AMEC and Cardinal Industrial of Louisville is expected to take about a month. The Baer Fabrics building, just south of the Vermont-American building, is expected to be demolished by the end of the year.
Construction work on the downtown bridge is expected to begin next spring following selection of a design-build construction team later this year.
Kentucky paid $3.8 million for the property last year and is in negotiations with an undisclosed developer for buildings that will be spared the wrecking ball, catty-corner from Louisville Slugger Field at Main and Jackson streets.
"This property has been eyed for redevelopment for years by many people and city leaders," explained Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D). "And it's in a tremendous spot now when you see the progress that's happened here in the last ten years on Main Street and Market Street and NuLu and Butchertown, and how it's all now coming together. It's pieces like the Vermont American building that are going to be some of those final connecting points."
The estimated $300,000 demolition cost is being funded by the state's right of way acquisition funds.
Kentucky predicts that construction work on the downtown bridge will begin next spring, with both bridges - east end and downtown - open for traffic by 2018. Indiana is responsible for the east end half of the project.
Both the Mayor and Governor point to recent highway congestion during road repairs as motivation for the downtown bridge. Beshear was asked whether bridges project construction will be better coordinated.
"The one thing that folks here are going to need to understand over the next six years is there's going to be a lot of inconvenience," Beshear responded. "I wish that weren't the case but when you take a project of the magnitude of what we're going to do, it's going to be inconvenient."
"We're going to do the best we can to minimize that as much as possible," Beshear continued, "But there will be delays. There will be this, there will be that. I mean, you know what's going to happen over six years. A lot of things change."
The existing Kennedy Bridge will convert to southbound traffic only when the new downtown bridge is open and carrying northbound I-65 traffic.
"There have been doubters for years and I don't blame them," Beshear told WHAS11. "But this going to happen. This is a visible sign it's going to happen and they're going to see more of this now as we move along."
Congressman John Yarmuth said the Ohio River Bridges Project has been repeatedly salvaged and resuscitated from "drowning" during his three terms in Congress.
"There were dozens of times during that five and a half years when this project could have collapsed," Yarmuth (D) said, thanking President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for expediting the project's approval process.
After four decades of discussion and planning, the project's progress in the last two years is conspicuous, especially since Indiana, Kentucky and ultimately the federal government agreed to a downsizing of the original plan that trimmed the estimated cost from $4.1 billion to $2.6 billion.
In August, Indiana is set to begin construction on a $5.5 million road extension that will ultimately connect the River Ridge Commerce Center to State Road 265 and the future East End Bridge.
The special adviser to the Indiana portion of the project, Steve Schultz, compared the overall effort to the first moon landing, which marked its 43rd anniversary last week.
"Success in the Apollo program required bold vision," Schultz said. "It required strong leadership, unwavering commitment, selfless teamwork, creative innovation, and incredibly focused effort. We have seen these keys to success at work on the Ohio River Bridges Project as well."
One big difference -- conspiracy theorists aside -- man has already walked on the moon. He has yet to drive across a new Louisville bridge.
"It's been 40 years," Fischer said. "We're getting started and we'll be moving ahead with great speed and fury."