Ky., Ind. officials stress importance of bridges project, including funding model

02/16/2011 03:17 PM

LOUISVILLE — Leaders from Kentucky and Indiana told 800 contractors and transportation industry officials at a forum Wednesday that the long-delayed Ohio River bridges project must not wait much longer.

The revised $3.6 billion plan for the project would include a new East End bridge where the Gene Synder Expressway ends in Louisville and I-265 ends in Indiana. It would also create a new bridge in downtown Louisville and would re-do Spaghetti Junction, which connects three interstates in downtown Louisville.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer all gave their reasons for supporting the project. The three agreed in December to reduce the scope of the project by $500 million from its original estimate of $4.1 billion.

But there have been doubts about whether the project would go off as planned because the Federal Highway Administration has asked for a revised environment impact statement after the changes. Leaders from both states said they can complete the new impact statement and start construction by 2012.

Following a video presentation that included University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Indiana University coach Tom Crean and Butler University coach Brad Stevens, Fischer told the crowd that Louisville supports the project as it stands.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said the project had “momentum” after the recent deal that lowered the project’s cost. And he noted that the current I-65 bridge was over capacity and Spaghetti Junction was a traffic boondoggle.

But one opponent of the scope of the project, former mayoral candidate Tyler Allen, a co-founder of 8864, which would like to see I-64 in downtown turned into a surface level highway, said he was skeptical contractors could suggest ways to shave much more off the project’s cost.

“It was surreal,” Allen called the morning speeches. “I don’t know whether they are looking for magic from these people?”

Allen noted a simpler solution would be to break the project up and build the East End bridge first, without promise of completing the other two projects.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said the current funding model of using private investment and tolls as well as taxpayer funds is necessary. He said the United States was far behind other countries in using that model.

But Allen disagreed, saying the future should be fewer “major interchanges” and more public transportation.

“The future better be more rational planning of infrastructure projects that we can build and maintain,” Allen said.

The comments from the governors and the Louisville mayor came as the opening of a two-day forum at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. The convention is supposed to bring builders, contractors and others from all over the world to help look at the project and propose any more ideas about cost-reducing measures, among other things.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston

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