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'Revive 65' Project Coming to 3-Mile Strech of I-65

A three-mile stretch of I-65, between the Watterson Expressway and Fern Valley Road, is going to be torn up and replaced with asphalt over the next three months or so. Concrete barriers are going up this week, and full construction will begin Monday on the “Revive-65” project.

Transportation Secretary Joe Prather says the state is spending $28.7-million dollars on the three miles of road.

“It’s probably, in some ways, more expensive than if you had no road, as far as the paving part,” says Prather, “because you have to take up what’s there, plus then you have to put back down the new surface.”

Eighteen-million dollars of the project is being paid for with federal stimulus money.

Prather says most of the construction will be done during off-peak hours, starting at eight o’clock each night. He says during that time there will be extensive lane closures, and people who travel that part of I-65 regularly are advised to find another route.

The project is expected to be finished by the end of this year.

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Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Construction Resumes

Construction on the Harrods Creek Bridge will resume Friday morning.

The one-lane span in eastern Jefferson County has been closed to automobile traffic since last year, when a state engineer declared it unsafe. The city then planned on rebuilding and widening the bridge.

Calling the work unnecessary, the conservation group River Fields filed two lawsuits to stop work on the historic span.

Construction on the bridge began late last month and was stopped earlier this month by a federal judge’s ruling. Another federal judge has now ruled in favor of the city and the two million dollar project will continue, with a completion date scheduled for late this year.

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Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Renovations Begin

Nearly eight months after the Harrods Creek Bridge was closed because of safety concerns, work has begun on widening the aging span.

The conservation group River Fields has filed two lawsuits to stop the construction work.   It says the historic one-lane structure is sound despite its age and needs only minor repairs.

Mayor’s spokesperson Kerri Richardson says unless a judge orders Metro Government to stop the project, construction will continue.

“The contract specifies that the bridge will be open by the end of the year,” she says. “There are incentives built into that contract that reward the contractor if they complete the bridge ahead of time, so we are confident that we are going to have a new Harrods Creek Bridge open for traffic by the close of 2009.”

The project is expected to cost two million dollars.

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Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Project To Begin Soon

The rebuilding and widening of the Harrods Creek Bridge in eastern Jefferson County is expected to begin soon.

New Albany-based Mac Construction has been awarded the $2.3 million contract for the project. They will build around the historical one lane bridge that was closed by state inspectors last November.

Mayor’s spokesperson Chris Poynter says the company has incentives to finish the project before the end of the year.

“Mac has a deadline to complete the project by the second week of December,” he says. “And we have incentives of up to $1,000 per day for thirty days if they complete the project early. If they don’t meet the deadline, the company is penalized $5,000 a day.”

Poynter says the company is waiting for the proper permits to work on the bridge.
The River Fields organization, which is opposed to the project, will offer an alternative to construction on Monday.

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Laborers, Officials Prepare For Stimulus Funds

The federal stimulus package will send billions of dollars to cities and states in the form of tax cuts, Medicare funds, education spending and construction dollars. But while local governments have a general idea of how much money they will receive, there are still details to be worked out.

A significant portion of President Obama’s 787 billion dollar plan to rebuild the economy involves literally rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Those are the so-called “shovel-ready” projects such as road repairs and school improvements that mayors and governors outlined for the president last year.

“Any time that you’re investing in your infrastructure, you’re investing in your economy and the society,” says Joe Wise, the business manager for the Greater Louisville Building and Construction Trades Council.

Wise says construction is tied to the health of the economy, and since last year, both have been in decline. He says rebuilding the infrastructure will help reduce jobless numbers.

“Right now if you were to aggregate it across all the trades, I’d say we’re right at 9 or 10 percent unemployment,” says Wise. “A lot of these projects that we’re going to be doing are projects that we probably should have done years ago and we’ve just been waiting to get the money to do and were never able to get around get that money.”

The idea behind the construction spending is that it will stimulate the economy on several levels. People will return to work, paying local, state and federal taxes and buying goods and services from local businesses. Then those businesses can hire more employees, and so on. The increase in consumer spending would ideally create more of a demand for materials and manufactured goods, and for more workers.

“It really doesn’t matter whether it’s for a temporary job or a medium-term job; if we can just somehow get spending started up again, then that should help the economy get back on its feet again,” says Economist John Vahaly.

Vahaly is the chair of the University of Louisville’s Department of Economics. He says the basic idea of stimulating through spending should work…if the money is spent right.

“It’s up to sort of each state and each local government to make the best case it can to the federal authorities on ‘These are the needs that we have that sort of fit the goals of the program,” he says.

“I feel like I’ve been given a thousand piece picture puzzle and they only sent 250 pieces. I didn’t get the box cover so I’m not sure what the end result is going to be,” says Rick Johnstone.

Former Louisville Deputy Mayor Johnstone is now the director of Louisville at Work. The organization is made up of city department heads and elected officials who will oversee stimulus spending in Louisville. Kentucky stands to receive about $3.7 billion from the package, but Johnstone says he’s not sure yet exactly how much of that will come to Louisville.

“It looks like in the formula side – money we’re pretty sure we’re going to get – that there’s going to be something in the $200 million range,” he says. “It could be more.”

And it will likely be more. There are also tens of millions of dollars available through competitive grants that can be used for construction and other projects.

The stimulus funds will only be available for two years. By that point, it’s hoped that the economy will have recovered. There’s talk of yet another stimulus proposal if the current one doesn’t yield the expected results. But economics professor John Vahaly says that shouldn’t be necessary if other steps are taken.

“I personally think it’s probably in the right number, assuming they do something about the ongoing problem of all the bad debt that’s still in the financial system. If they don’t fix that debt problem, more money’s going to have to be spent,” he says.

The Treasury Department is putting together its plan to fix the banking system. Vahaly says without functioning banks, there won’t be construction and home loans, which means there won’t be anything to sustain the jobs created by the current stimulus when the funds run out in two years.

Click to track the money coming to Louisville, the roughly $4 billion going to Indiana or the national use of stimulus fonds.

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Local News

Surge in New Residential Construction Permits in Cities

Some metropolitan communities may be attracting more residents from the suburbs and rural areas.  That’s according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s John Thomas.

“The real central question here is when you look at the whole central metropolitan area, is there a change in the share of that new residential construction happening downtown relative to the suburban counties, and that’s what I was finding.  And again, it’s not universal is I think one of the other interesting take home messages,” says Thomas.

The trend is most pronounced among the coastal cities as well as in Chicago and Atlanta.  But metro areas like Louisville and other Midwestern cities are not seeing their share of downtown residential developments jump dramatically.  Thomas says the reasons could be anything from lack of development money to the need to rezone a property.

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Local News

KY Jobless Rate Hits 20+ Year High

Several large U.S. corporations announced massive lay-offs nationwide this week.  About 55,000 jobs were lost in a single day.  It’s not yet clear whether any of those losses will come from Kentucky.  What is clear is that the most recent unemployment statistics here show little improvement.  State labor market analyst Justine Detzel says the construction and manufacturing industries have been hardest hit.  But the health care sector actually added jobs in December 2008. And so did the leisure and hospitality sectors.

“There is still some turnover in the industry.  So in the last month there were a few restaurants that opened which helped to push up the numbers from the prior month.  But over the year it did lose 3,300 jobs,” says Detzel.

Kentucky’s jobless rate climbed to 7.8 percent in December.  That’s the highest rate in more than 20 years, up nearly a percentage point from November 2008.

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State to Offer Construction Vehicles Exhaust Filters

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has received federal funding to retrofit highway construction equipment with exhaust filters.  Diesel engines on this equipment emit harmful pollution—including soot, which can cause lung damage.  So in areas of the state where soot is especially bad, the Cabinet will have about 60 filters on hand.   David Devers is a Cabinet spokesman.

“We’re going to make them available, basically, to contractors who are using heavy equipment for roadwork, and this is pretty much the first go around, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they respond to it.”

The program is voluntary, and contractors will have to match 20-percent of the filters’ cost.    Devers says filters can remove anywhere between 20 to 90 percent of the soot a vehicle emits, but he couldn’t confirm which technology the Cabinet has chosen.

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Local News

Council May Consider Center City Purchase

This week the Louisville Metro Council could consider a resolution that would bring the Center City project closer to completion.

Council President Jim King told council members he wants to speed up the purchase of land downtown for the venture. During the budgeting process, council Republicans opposed spending money on Center City without more details about the project, which would essentially be an extension of the Fourth Street Live entertainment district.

The city has a tentative agreement with the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies to complete the project. The agreement includes leasing the land to the developer.

Center City would be in Democratic Councilman David Tandy’s district. He says the council will have oversight on certain aspects of development.

“I have no reason to personally believe that the project would not go through, would not be completed as it’s been presented to us in the past,” he says.

Council Republicans say they’re reluctant to spend the money without seeing final plans or a development agreement with Cordish.

“We want to know what kind of a deal are we getting ourselves in to and is it a deal that we believe is one that moves us forward?” says Council Republican Kevin Kramer.

Democrats outnumber Republicans on the council 15 to 11.

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Local News

Beshear Promotes Teamwork Among Smaller Governments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear talked about the power of teamwork during an address to the annual Local Issues Conference in Louisville Tuesday.

In his keynote speech, Beshear said every local government in Kentucky is facing a tough economy. The best way to cope with limited funds, he said, is through teamwork.

Earlier this week Beshear announced plans to scale back road construction projects. In his local issues speech, he called upon city and county governments to advise him on which projects to change, and in what ways.

Scott County Magistrate Tom Prather attended the conference. He says that while it makes short term financial sense to build narrower and less advanced roads in some areas, governments should plan ahead before making any decisions.

“Clearly we have to scale those projects to anticipate the future,” he says. “Either by right of way acquisition that’s done now or we anticipate those future needs given our understanding of how our communities will grow.”

The Local Issues Conference began on Monday and ends Wednesday.