Politics & Government

Kentucky, Indiana reach agreement on financing Louisville bridges project

The John F. Kennedy Bridge on Interstate 65, viewed from the Indiana side, will be refurbished as part of the $2.6 billion project.
The John F. Kennedy Bridge on Interstate 65, viewed from the Indiana side, will be refurbished as part of the $2.6 billion project.

LOUISVILLE — Construction of two new bridges spanning the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana could begin in late 2012, with the spans open before the end of the decade, Kentucky and Indiana officials said Thursday.

Contracts for the $2.6 billion projects would be bid out within the next year under the deal reached by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Each state would be responsible for about $1.3 billion of the total cost.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock said work could begin by the end of 2012, with "visible construction" starting in early 2013.

"By 2018, hopefully, you'll find both bridges open to traffic," Hancock told reporters Thursday afternoon during a conference call.

Kentucky would be responsible for building a new Interstate 65 bridge, refurbishing the Kennedy Bridge, modernizing the Kennedy interchange, and expanding the I-65 approach in Indiana.

Indiana would be responsible for building a new bridge across the river at Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky., a new highway linking the Lee Hamilton Expressway and Gene Snyder Freeway, and a tunnel in eastern Jefferson County.

Tolls would help cover the cost of construction.

The proposal of bridge tolls has drawn opposition in Kentucky and Indiana. Paul Fetter, head of Organization For A Better Southern Indiana Inc., said tolls aren't in the "best interest" of the community, but he was glad to see the cost of the project reduced.

The land-conservation group River Fields sued the Federal Highway Administration over plans for the east end bridge, saying the environmental impact study for the bridges project wasn't properly done. That suit is pending in federal court.

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority would help coordinate the construction projects, which would be coupled under a single financial plan.

The original cost estimate on the projects was $4.1 billion. The states will supplement revenue from tolls with state and federal transportation funds.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer estimated that the project will create about 5,000 jobs over the course of construction.

The new spans wouldn't replace the Kennedy Bridge, the I-65 bridge or the Sherman Minton Bridge, which is currently closed. Instead, the new bridges and an untangled interchange in downtown Louisville, where interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge, are expected to alleviate traffic on the older spans and compensate for population growth in the region.

The Sherman Minton Bridge, which carries motorists along I-64 between Louisville and southern Indiana, shut down earlier this year because of structural deficiencies. Indiana officials hope to have the span reopened by spring.