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The federal government has ordered a possibly years-long review of proposed changes to the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Last month, Mayor Greg Fischer, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels proposed cutting lanes from the east end bridge, dropping pedestrian paths from the downtown bridge and rebuilding Spaghetti Junction in place. The cuts, they say, would shave about $500 million off of the projects’ $4.1 billion cost.

As the Courier-Journal reports, the changes will require new environmental research. In other states, similar federal reevaluations have taken years to complete, but an official with the Ohio River Bridges Project told WFPL’s Rick Howlett the new studies should only take one year.

A conference on how best to complete the project will be held in Louisville on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Bridges Coalition (a nonprofit that supports the Ohio River Bridges Project) chairman David Nickilies is stepping down. The interim chair will be outgoing Maker’s Mark president Bill Samuels Jr.

Here are three transportation-related links for you:

  1. The new candidate for mayor in New Albany supports scaling down the Ohio River Bridges Project. Specifically, Irv Stumler says the downtown bridge could be put off.
  2. The proposed changes for the project may open the door for more delays.
  3. Public Radio’s Changing Gears project looks at how manufacturing belt cities can prosper by removing urban interstates.

The Metro Council’s majority caucus sent out the following statements about possible changes to the Ohio River Bridges Project:

“I am glad the Governors of Kentucky and Indiana along with the Mayor of Louisville are working together to take a realistic approach to this vital economic development project. It is now up to the Bridge Authority to move forward with the desires of not only the political leaders but the residents of these two states,”   Councilwoman Madonna Flood (D-24) Majority Leader

“These revisions are exactly what the Council requested with our resolution.  It’s gratifying to know we’ve been heard.” Councilman Jim King (D-10) Chairman, Budget Committee

“Clearly both governors and Mayor Fischer have been listening to the citizens and local elected officials about the negative impact tolling existing infrastructure would have on working families and businesses.  It appears they’ve also embraced the reality that the project as it currently is proposed is too expensive.  Calling for cost cutting measures such as scaling back on design and construction, employing creative solutions and focusing on alternative transportation (i.e., completing Big Four Pedestrian Bridge rather than adding lanes for peds to new I-65) is something that many of us have been urging for more than four years. This news is a welcomed surprise.”   Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh (D-9)

As King points out, the Council passed a resolution last year opposing tolls on existing infrastructure.

We’ll post additional reactions as we hear them.

Changes could be made to the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer are touting a proposed set of changes to the project. The changes would shrink the ORBP, but two new bridges and a revamped Spaghetti Junction would still be in the plan.

The leaders have proposed keeping Spaghetti Junction in its current location, making the east end bridge four lanes instead of six and cutting bike lanes from the proposed downtown bridge in favor of the pedestrian-only Big Four Bridge. The proposed changes could cut half a billion dollars from the project.

Both states and the bi-state Bridges Authority will host a conference next month to find other ways to cut costs. Mayor Fischer says that may satisfy those citizens who have said the $4.1 billion project is too expensive.

“The project is costly as it is right now,” he says. “But some preliminary things have identified at least a half billion dollars or so and I would certainly hope as we pull the best minds in the world together on this thing that we can save more money than that as well.”

Fischer also says tolls should not be placed on the Sherman Minton or Clark Memorial Bridges. The group Say No To Bridge Tolls has called the proposed changes a victory.  Members further hope no tolls will be placed on the Kennedy Bridge and that the project will be built in phases. The Bridges Authority previously opposed that suggestion.

We’re pursuing more on this, but here’s a quick update…

Governor Steve Beshear‘s office sent out an announcement this morning saying he, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer are planning to “explore options that could reduce the cost of the Ohio River Bridges Project by more than $500 million and still keep the entire two-bridge construction plan on track.”

From the Governor’s office:

The major cost savings for the project, which currently has an estimated price tag of $4 billion, could come from changes in these key areas:

  • Rebuilding Spaghetti Junction in the existing location rather than move it south
  • Reducing the East End bridge, roadway and tunnel from six lanes to four lanes, with the option to add two lanes later if traffic demand warrants
  • Completing the Big Four Bridge pedestrian walkway and bike path as an alternative to including pedestrian and bike paths on the new downtown bridge

In addition, the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority will explore other cost-saving solutions in design, construction and financing by soliciting private-sector ideas at an industry innovation forum next month.

Architect Steve Wiser was quoted in WFPL’s story on the public hearing on the bridges project.

“I think it is pretty pre-arranged as to how they want to accept comments here. So it’s not your typical public forum. I think they have a pre-arranged agenda for this meeting.”

He says quite a bit more on The Ville Voice.

Do you think Nashville, Indianapolis, or Cincinnati would cut their region in half like this?

We will be conducting a societal experiment never before tried in urban planning. Once you open this Pandora’s Box, you will not be able to close it. I feel many negative consequences will result from it.


Rick Howlett covered today’s committee meeting of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority. He reports…

A committee of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority is recommending that construction on the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges project begin in August of 2012, and that frequent commuters be charged a one dollar toll to help pay for it.

The project includes new Ohio River bridges in downtown Louisville and eastern Jefferson County (right) and a reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction.

Panel chairman Kerry Stemler says it remains to be seen whether the toll would be charged on just the new bridges or exsiting ones as well, which would require federal approval. He says the one dollar figure is a good starting point.

Read the whole story and response from toll opponents at WFPL.

 

The Courier-Journal has an update on the Ohio River Bridges Project, and it opens with news that the plan for how the project will be paid for will not be complete next month, as previously hoped.

With the project already years behind schedule and billions of dollars above its original estimates, the bridges authority plans to release an update next week that will include the latest price tag and note that “innovative” funding, such as tolls, will be needed to cover the Ohio River Bridges Project’s cost — estimated over the summer at $4.1 billion.

But Steve Schultz, the authority’s executive director, declined to say when the group will decide which roads and bridges will be tolled, for how much, for how long and how exactly the project will be financed. He said a rough schedule for making those decisions will be presented at the agency’s Dec. 16 meeting.

 

The Bridges Coalition has a television ad out about the Ohio River Bridges Project. The spot compares the ORBP to a stool that needs three legs to stand. In the case of the bridges, the ad says those legs are an east end bridge, downtown bridge and reworked Spaghetti Junction.

Without all three legs, the ad says, the stool will fall flat on “compromises.” This follows the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority’s recent push to remind the public that the ORBP is two bridges, one project and it won’t be split or reduced, as some anti-toll groups, transportation advocates and area politicians have recommended.

 

(h/t Ville Voice)

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