The long-awaited Ohio River Bridges Project may get built after all—and at a considerable savings to taxpayers—according to a new plan announced at a Metro Hall press conference Thursday. The cost of the Ohio River Bridges Project could be reduced by at least $1.2 billion with changes such as those recommended earlier this year by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, an in-depth analysis by the Bi-State Management Team has concluded.
“We are committed on both sides of the river to build these bridges as quickly as we can, at the lowest cost possible,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said. “The project team’s detailed analysis showing a much higher estimated savings is great news for our citizens. I’m excited about the project’s continued momentum and the enormous beneficial impact it will have for our communities.”
The largest savings would result from:
- Rebuilding the downtown Kennedy Interchange in place rather than moving it to the south – $800 million less;
- Eliminating flyover ramps and making other design changes on the Indiana interstate approach to the newly expanded I-65 bridges – $215 million less; and
- Reducing the East Endbridge, roadway and tunnel from six to four lanes – $174 million less.
“We’ve been talking about building these bridges for far too long. It’s time for action,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “It’s my goal to get these bridges under construction in the next four years. The bridges will not only improve traffic and provide better access across the river, it will mean jobs…5,000 jobs a year for up to 10 years….to put our citizens back to work.”
The cost-saving changes would reduce the estimated cost of the project from $4.1 billion to $2.9 billion. The project’s price tag could go lower still as a result of efforts by the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, which is working to develop a financing plan to close the funding gap and reduce the 12-year project timetable through public-private partnerships. The cost estimates are based on an annual 4-percent inflation rate with construction beginning in FY 2013 and ending in FY 2022.
The Ohio River Bridges Project team – led by the Indiana Department of Transportation, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Federal Highway Administration – began working on a detailed, five-month analysis in January after the two governors and Mayor Fischer asked for cost-savings alternatives to the 2003 plan for two new bridges and the rebuilding of the Kennedy Interchange.
At the time, the project team conservatively estimated that the construction costs alone could be reduced by more than $500 million with three major changes – rebuilding the Kennedy Interchange in place, reducing the width of the East End alignment and removing the pedestrian and bike path from the new downtown bridge.
The states of Kentucky and Indiana began working on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) in February to determine whether the cost-savings approaches will meet the Purpose and Need of the project, the federal government’s basis for approving the project in 2003. The Purpose and Need includes increasing traffic flow and safety, reducing congestion and improving transportation system linkages.
The updated study was also required to consider the potential impacts of using tolls to help close the funding shortfall, a factor not considered in the original 2003 study. Over the past several months, the project team looked at the design changes recommended by state and city leaders in greater detail, considered other design modifications and tallied up savings from related factors such as reduced land acquisition, professional services and inflation.
The greatest savings would come from rebuilding the Kennedy Interchange – known locally as Spaghetti Junction because of its lane-weaving design – on its existing footprint rather than purchase additional land and build a new interchange to the south. The $800 million cost reduction accounts for two-thirds of the overall savings.
The biggest potential savings beyond those identified by the governors and mayor in January is the $215 million reduction in the cost of the Indiana approach to the new and improved I-65 bridges. The design changes would eliminate some of the costly flyover ramps and reduce the amount of land needed.
Following the cost-savings approach, the cost of the downtown and East End bridges and roadways would be nearly the same. The three downtown sections, which include the Kennedy Interchange reconstruction, would cost $1.44 billion and the three East End sections would cost $1.35 billion.
The two states plan to compare the cost-savings alternative to two other options – the original 2003 recommended alternative and a no-build alternative – in the SEIS process underway. Tolling scenarios for the new and improved I-65 bridges and the new East Endbridge will be studied for the two construction alternatives to consider the potential impacts in traffic diversion and other environmental factors.
The Bridges Authority will also study tolling options as part of its on-going work to develop a financial plan for the project to close the gap between the traditional financial resources of the states and the project’s ultimate price tag. The Bridges Authority also will examine whether an alternative delivery model, such as a public-private partnership, could significantly reduce the project’s 12-year timetable and further decrease costs.
The three alternatives under consideration in the SEIS process will be the centerpiece of an upcoming series of seven public involvement meetings, which include two meetings for the general public:
- Indiana Meeting – June 27, 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Holiday Inn Lakeview Louisville – North, 505 Marriott Drive, Clarksville, Ind.
- Kentucky Meeting – June 28, 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Holiday Inn Hurstbourne, 1325 Hurstbourne Parkway, Louisville, Ky.
Citizens are invited to attend the meetings to learn more about the options, ask questions and provide comments that will be considered in developing the draft SEIS, which will recommend a preferred alternative later this year.
Learn more: Ohio River Bridges Project