Toll free? Governors agree to cut costs on Louisville bridges

| 1/4/2011

Toll opponents in the Louisville area have won a victory this week, but there’s still work to be done. On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the governors of Kentucky and Indiana and the mayor of Louisville agreed on a plan to scale back the Ohio River Bridges Project, save $500 million, and work to keep at least two of the three existing bridges free of tolls.

“This is a major victory for the Say No to Bridge Tolls campaign,” said Louisville resident Shawn Reilly, founder of the anti-toll group. “Our state leaders and bridge authority are moving in the right direction. There’s still more they need to do.”

The original plan, expected to cost $4 billion, was to toll up to three existing bridges – the Sherman Minton Bridge (I-64), Clark Memorial Bridge (U.S. 31) and John F. Kennedy Bridge (I-65) – to pay for two new bridges and to fund a complete overhaul of the Spaghetti Junction interchange.

Public pressure on the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority – including a petition by Say No to Bridge Tolls and calls to action by OOIDA to members in the area – have helped educate officials that they should try it another, cheaper way.

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued statements Tuesday to say the project would be scaled back in an effort to save $500 million.

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, with members appointed by the governors and mayor, has agreed to scale back on the tolling scenario.

“We want to make sure that all existing bridges remain toll free. Right now they’ve met us on the Sherman-Minton and Clark Memorial,” said Reilly. “We want to make sure that the Kennedy Bridge is toll free as well. If they build it in phases, there will be no need for tolls.”

State lawmakers, Democrats Larry Clark of the House and Tim Shaughnessy of the Senate, have vowed to file legislation to keep existing infrastructure toll-free.

Costs of the revised Ohio River Bridges Project are reduced by rebuilding Spaghetti Junction in its existing location rather than moving the interchange to the south; reducing the East End Bridge plan from six lanes to four lanes; and building pedestrian crossings on an existing bridge instead of adding them to one of the new bridges.

In their joint statement, Daniels, Beshear and Fischer said the decision will “reduce costs and, ultimately, tolls to make this project happen.”

Daniels added that, “It’s time to unleash the power of the private sector.”

As Land Line readers are aware, it was Daniels who unleashed the private sector in 2006 when he leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to private investors from Spain and Australia. That lease is scheduled to expire in 2081.