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Bridges Project Clears Federal Hurdle

The start of construction on the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project is inching closer.

The federal government has approved the latest environmental impact statement for the project. The study was ordered after the mayor of Louisville and the governors of Kentucky and Indiana proposed shrinking the project to save $1.6 billion.

The governors also agreed to split responsibilities for the project between the states. Indiana will build a bridge in eastern Jefferson County. Kentucky will build a downtown bridge and reconfigure Spaghetti Junction.

Just a few things need to happen for the now $2.6 billion bridges project to move forward. First is federal approval of the record of decision. Third District Congressman John Yarmuth expects that to come this summer.

The next is the awarding of a bid for a firm to design and build the bridges. In Kentucky, three firms will be asked to bid soon, and a winner is likely to be chosen in the fall.

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Fischer Rallies In Support of Road Budget, Though Passage Is Likely

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is rallying in Frankfort this afternoon to urge state lawmakers to pass a transportation budget. However, the General Assembly made a deal yesterday to pass the legislation.

The rally will center around the Ohio River Bridges Project, which is partially funded in the state spending plan.

“We are very close,” says Mayor’s spokesman Chris Poynter. “We might have a sign off this week on the final environmental impact statement. So everything for this project is finally ready to begin.”

There are other Louisville projects the budget covers as well.

“Including NuLu and East Market, a five million dollar earmark to redo the entire East Market area,” says Poynter. “Also, Crittenden Drive and Dixie Highway. We have a lot at stake in this transportation plan.”

The transportation budget was in jeopardy this week when Senate President David Williams vowed not to act on it until Governor Beshear signed or vetoed an unfunded road plan that passed earlier. Beshear made his move yesterday, and Williams promised the budget would go before the Senate this week.

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Lack of Transportation Budget Delays Action on Bridges Project

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says the General Assembly’s inaction on a transportation budget has put the Ohio River Bridges Project on hold.

The commonwealth is in charge of the downtown portion of the project, which includes a new bridge between Louisville and southern Indiana and a reworking of Spaghetti Junction. This week, the state Transportation Cabinet was supposed to choose three finalists from five firms that submitted bids for the project. The three finalists would then prepare more detailed plans, with the bid to be awarded this fall.

But now cabinet officials say they won’t announce the finalists until the transportation budget passes.

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Five Firms Vying for Downtown Bridge Contract

Five companies are vying to build the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Kentucky is in charge of appointing a firm to build a new bridge between downtown Louisville and southern Indiana. The company will also rework Spaghetti Junction. The deadline for applications was this week, and transportation cabinet officials will spend the next few weeks reviewing the submissions.

Because the project is so large, most of the applicants are joint ventures between national and international construction firms. Their applications will be judged on several criteria including experience, price and the inclusion of minority and women in jobs. Later this month, three finalists will be asked to submit formal proposals for building and maintaining the new span. A final bid will be chosen in the fall.

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Agreement Calls For Divided Funding, Oversight of Bridges Project

Kentucky and Indiana have agreed on a funding plan for the Ohio River Bridges Project. The plan splits the funding—and oversight of the project—down the middle.

Under the plan, Kentucky will be responsible for the new I-65 bridge and improvements to the Kennedy Bridge and Spaghetti Junction, as well as Indiana’s approach to I-65. Indiana will oversee the East End portion of the project. The states will use traditional transportation funds as well as tolls to pay.

The final project is projected to cost $2.6 billion—$1.5 billion less than the plan that was originally proposed. Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock says he thinks the financing plan is fair to both states.

“I think that with the money that Indiana’s bringing to the table and with the money that Kentucky is bringing and the tolls that will be generated, we think that this is very much a financing plan that ultimately will prove fair for both states and ensure that we meet the financial obligations of the project,” he said.

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Officials Expect Traffic Backup on Bridges on Thanksgiving

The Indiana Department of Transportation is expecting significant traffic problems on the Kennedy Bridge due to Thanksgiving-related travel.

With the Sherman Minton Bridge closed, projections show traffic backing up for miles on I-65 southbound at the bridge during Thanksgiving Day. Northbound traffic should be about the same as it usually is.

The problem could be further compounded by the number of drivers on the road who are unfamiliar with the bridge closure and detours.

Repairs on the Sherman Minton Bridge are underway and should be complete by March.

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Feds Approve Revised Bridges Plan, New Public Comment Period Begins

Public meetings have been set on the revised Ohio River Bridges Project plan.

Earlier this year, Mayor Greg Fischer and the governors of Kentucky and Indiana put forward a plan to scale back the project and cut the cost from $4.1 billion to $2.9 billion. That prompted an environmental review from the Federal Highway Administration.

Thursday, the administration approved the plan, triggering the next round of public comments. Two forums will be held on the plan next month, one in Kentucky on the 19th and the other in Indiana on the 20th.

There is no financing plan in place for the project, though tolls between one and two dollars will be likely. The tolling plan is also contingent on Federal Highway Administration approval.

Additional information from the Associated Press

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Local News Politics

Paul Bridges Amendment Fails on Senate Floor

by Dan Conti, Kentucky Public Radio

Senator Rand Paul’s bid to take money from highway beautification projects and use it to repair bridges and other transportation infrastructure has failed on the senate floor. The Kentucky Republican proposed eliminating money for landscaping projects like walking and bike paths and re-directing the funds for bridge work.

“This amendment simply takes funds from beautification and puts them into bridges,” he said. “As legislators, we need to prioritize and spend money on what is most important to us. Some on the other side may like the beautification projects. We like them also. But we are running a $1.5 trillion deficit.”

Paul urged senators to support the amendment, telling his colleagues it should appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike.

“I’ve stood with the president in the shadows of our crumbling bridges,” Paul said. “I told the president personally I would help to rebuild the bridges. This amendment should be non-controversial. This amendment spends no new money and raises no new taxes.”

Despite his entreaty, the amendment had no Democratic support. Thirty-eight Republicans supported the measure, while seven did not.

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The Wednesday Morning Commute: 7am Update

Wednesday begins with one bright spot: officials say the traffic on Monday and Tuesday has been moving more smoothly than expected. Small comfort if you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or if you’re getting up much earlier to start your commute – but worth noting.

A few notes: Wednesday morning traffic is reverting back to normal Third Street routes coming off westbound I-64 in downtown Louisville.

TARC is adding several buses to the routes that cross the river. Here’s the route information. TARC also offers Park and Ride locations in southern Indiana for travel across the Kennedy and Clark Memorial Bridges.

The “Spirit of Jefferson” boat is shuttling residents across the Ohio River beginning this morning. The shuttle will cost $1 dollar each way and will initially operate on weekdays for the next two weeks.

The Spirit runs from Riverfront Park in Jeffersonville to the 4th Street Wharf in Louisville. There are 265 free parking spaces under the Kennedy Bridge, where residents can park to board the shuttle. The 300 person ferry will run 6:00 and 9:00 in the morning, and between 3:00 and 5:15 in the evening. Here’s the timetable.

And Indiana Department of Transportation workers have begun expanding several interstate ramps in southern Indiana from one to two lanes to help ease congestion.

Paving and striping crews have expanded the I-265 westbound ramp to I-64 westbound, and the I-64 eastbound ramp to I-265 eastbound. Today, they’ll expand the I-265 eastbound ramp to I-65 southbound. All the work is taking place between morning and evening rush hours.

This program note: today at 1pm, we’ll devote the entire hour to the latest on the Sherman Minton Bridge, the traffic problems caused by its closure, and what officials are doing about it. And we want you to call with your comments and questions.

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Indiana Brewer Says Bridge Closure A Chance for Hoosiers to Visit Local Businesses

A New Albany business owner says the Sherman Minton Bridge’s closure has given him a better chance to connect with Hoosier customers.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Company, which has two restaurants in the city. He says he’s not worried about losing business in the short term while New Albany’s connection to Louisville is severed.

“When you’re already a destination business and you’re already a niche business and people already know what you are and what to look for, the ones who are into it will still come,” he says. “But I think it’s a good opportunity for us in New Albany to make sure everybody on our side of the river knows we’re here.”

Baylor says he’s talking with his fellow New Albany business owners to determine a long-term plan to adjust to the bridge closure.

To see the traffic plan for the bridge closure, click here.