Bridges Project May Require Two Billion Dollars In Toll Revenue

by Gabe Bullard on December 9, 2010

Tolls could be used to pay for roughly half of the Ohio River Bridges Project. That’s according to the latest numbers presented Thursday to the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority.

The authority must update its plan to finance two new bridges over the Ohio River and a reworked Spaghetti Junction this month. They will vote on an update next week that tentatively calls for frequent commuters to be charged a one dollar toll, and for all tolls to cover about half of the project’s 4.1 billion dollar cost.

But the body does not yet have permission from the federal government to toll existing bridges and it’s not clear how much federal money will be available for the project.

Because of those uncertainties, co-chair Kerry Stemler says the plan may be revised next year.

“We did have to make assumptions,” he says. “We’re going to always be waiting on answers. I live in a world where permitting is a big thing. We will continue to have to make assumptions. If we waited to develop our plan and move it forward, till we knew every detail…so there are assumptions that could make things change.”

Stemler says if different toll amounts are to be charged for different types of commuters, those types must still be defined.  The authority will accept public comment the updated financing plan Monday and vote on it Thursday.

Stemler also responded to accusations of a possible conflict of interest. The group Say No To Bridge Tolls is calling on several authority members to disclose their work with other organizations that support the construction of two new bridges over the Ohio River and a reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction.

The request follows Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s order that certain state officials report any potential conflicts of interest. But Stemler says he is not violating any ethics rules.

“I won’t deny that I have championed this cause through GLI, One Southern Indiana, the Bridges Coalition, the Governor of Kentucky, the Governor of Indiana,” he says. “I will stand on any hilltop or the top of any building and say how I personally believe in this project and believe how important it is.”

Say No To Bridge Tolls has previously called for the bridges project to be scaled back. Organization officials say they will file an ethical complaint if conflict-of-interest disclosures are not made in the next week.

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