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Proposal Unveiled To Revise Bridges Project

The governors of Kentucky and Indiana and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer have unveiled a plan aimed at reducing the cost of the Ohio River Bridges Project by $500 million.The project, now estimated at $4.1 billion, would build two new Ohio River bridges in Jefferson County and rebuild Spaghetti Junction.The three leaders say major cost savings could come by: Rebuilding Spaghetti Junction in the existing location rather than moving it south, reducing the proposed East End bridge from six to four lanes, and completing the Big Four Bridge walkway and bike path as an alternative to walkways on a new downtown Louisville bridge.The three also say they favor a financing plan that would not require tolls on the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial Bridges. Governors Steve Beshear and Mitch Daniels have also asked the bi-state bridges authority and their states' transportation officials to co-host a conference next month on ways to pusure the most modern and cost-effective means of completing the bridges project.The leaders unveiled the proposal in a press release Tuesday: FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 4, 2011) – Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer today announced plans 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. The leaders also signaled their desire to keep the Sherman Minton Bridge (I-64) and Clark Memorial Bridge (US 31) toll free. 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. “Now is the time to dig deeper and move faster to make it a reality,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are firmly committed to getting the job done and done right. Let’s start the new year with a firm commitment to reduce the costs of the project.” “The key to our success moving forward is a lean design that meets our needs at the lowest cost,” said Gov. Daniels. “Our ability to move with creativity and innovation will reduce costs and, ultimately, the tolls to make this project happen. It’s time to unleash the power of the private sector.” “Time is money,” added Mayor Fischer. “One estimate suggests that every month of delay costs $10 million. The faster and smarter we move forward, the more we can make those checks payable to ourselves.” The cost-cutting plans are the result of a continuing commitment by both states and the Bridges Authority to complete the project in the most financially responsible way. The two governors have challenged their transportation staffs and consultants to find ways to reduce the project’s cost and accelerate its progress. The plans will require further study and consultation with federal officials. But the leaders believe the changes will reduce the overall environmental impact of the project, meet the established Purpose and Need and avoid any additional delay. Industry Innovation Forum Planned for February The industry innovation forum is the key next step in the cost-savings process. The two governors have asked the Bridges Authority, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation to co-host a conference in February for the design, construction and finance industries to pursue the most modern and cost-effective means of completing the project. “We will bring together the best minds in the transportation world to provide the types of ideas we’ve been exploring to drive down costs and get the project completed as quickly as possible,” said Bridges Authority Chairman Charles Buddeke. Authority Co-Chair Kerry Stemler said, “The forum will also provide a venue for the local construction industry, disadvantaged business enterprises and labor leaders to connect with major companies in transportation infrastructure to discuss future partnerships and employment needs on this important project.” Goal to Keep Sherman Minton, Clark Memorial Bridges Toll-Free Along with further exploration of cost savings, the leaders said they favor a financing plan that would not require tolls on the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges. Any tolling should be linked to the project’s improvements in cross-river mobility from the expanded Kennedy Bridge downtown and the new East End bridge, the leaders said. Beshear, Daniels and Fischer also said they support the Authority’s targets for minimizing tolls and starting construction in August 2012. The three leaders praised the Kentucky General Assembly’s leadership for passing legislation that led to the creation of the Bridges Authority and the members and staff of the Bridges Authority for making more progress in 10 months than this project has achieved in the past 10 years. “These outstanding citizens who volunteer their time are working to chart a course that will make a difference for the region for generations to come,” Gov. Beshear said. “The Bridges Authority has shown exceptional leadership in its work to find new and creative ways to advance the project, which is so important to this region and to our two states,” added Gov. Daniels. “We are truly united in this endeavor, and the Authority exemplifies our spirit of partnership.” ###

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." Email Rick at rhowlett@lpm.org.