08-01-2012

Feds give final approval needed for Ohio River Bridges Project

Kentucky Press News Service

LOUISVILLE – Federal transportation officials have approved the financing, management and tolling plans for the Ohio River Bridges Project, the last major federal requirements needed to begin construction.

The OK from the Federal Highway Administration paves the way for the project’s official start on Aug. 30. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and other federal, state and local officials will break ground on the first construction element of the long-awaited project – a 3,000-foot road extension in Indiana that will ultimately connect the River Ridge Commerce Center to State Road 265 and the future East End Bridge, according to a news release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

With the federal sign-off, each state plans to move forward this week with its final Request for Proposals, which will ask the competing bridge- and road-building teams to provide their plans and bids for constructing the project. The states will select those teams before year’s end.

The Bridges Project will include construction of new bridges across the Ohio River between downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., and between Prospect in Oldham County and Utica, Ind. In addition, the project will dramatically improve the Kennedy Interchange, where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 meet in downtown Louisville, and the existing Kennedy Bridge, which carries I-65 traffic.

The Bridges Project will improve cross-river mobility and increase safety in the now highly congested corridor. In the process, it will create thousands of jobs, both in short-term construction and in long-term economic development, the news release said.

Last month, federal officials approved the cost-savings version of the Bridges Project originally put forward by Beshear, Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. The approach reduces costs 40 percent by streamlining the basic design, cutting construction time in half and encouraging private-sector innovation in the delivery process.

The project will be headed by the existing Bi-State Management Team led by representatives from KYTC and INDOT.

A joint bi-state board, which will resolve any issues or disputes, includes the leaders of four governing agencies – the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Indiana Department of Transportation and the two states’ financing agencies for the project – the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority and the Indiana Finance Authority.

Kentucky and Indiana are working to finalize a development agreement that will describe the states’ approach to adopting a tolling policy, which will guide the setting of toll rates. The agreement will also contain provisions designed to ensure that the toll revenues collected will, together with other committed sources of funding, be sufficient to pay for the construction, rehabilitation, financing, maintenance and operation of the tolled facilities. Tolls will be collected using electronic non-stop technology by a single toll collection system operator selected by the two states and will be shared equally between Kentucky and Indiana.

Tolls on all project facilities will begin as soon as the first new crossing is completed. Motorists will pay tolls only on the new East End Crossing and the Downtown Crossing, which includes a new I-65 bridge for northbound traffic only and a revamped Kennedy Bridge for southbound traffic only. The East End Crossing is expected to open in 2017 and the Downtown Crossing in 2018.