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Louisville’s Transportation Committee Says End Litigation Against Bridges Project

Louisville Metro Council’s Transportation, Bridges and Public Works Committee is asking River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to drop its suit against the Ohio River Bridges Project, as it continues to narrow down the options to begin building by next August.

“We are in a battle saying what can we do to help move this forward and anybody that’s thinks they’re going to stand there and say no, no, no, no, no—those days are over. It is time to move forward,” said Councilman Kelly Downward.

Litigation from the conservation group River Fields is just one issue delaying the project, said Downard. The committee passed a resolution asking litigation to end. River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation say the federal government hasn’t properly made the case for both bridges, but criticism of the suit and the organizations has grown in recent years.

It’s unlikely the resolution will sway any future decisions by the federal courts, if it passes, said William O’Brien with the Jefferson County attorney’s office.

“I hate to be facetious and smart, but I don’t really think the federal court system is going to weigh anything that you all have to say in a resolution,” he said.

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority gave progress reports to the committee Thursday. Co-chair Kerry Stemler said discussions around proposed methods of building the bridges continue. Six methods for building the project are being discussed and in all but one option Kentucky’s state law will have to change, he said.

The resolution against River Fields will go before the full council next Thursday. River Fields rejected an invitation to attend the committee meeting.

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Bridges Authority Focused On Data

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority met Thursday.

The Authority is still awaiting results on a new Environmental Impact Study. The report is required for changes to the project proposed by the Governors of Indiana and Kentucky and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

However, the panel has made advances in its own data-gathering. The Finance Committee met last month and announced the completion of a traffic flow study. Executive Director Steve Schulz Thursday said the committee should remain focused on its objectives in light of the recent changes.

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Officials Following Up On Bridges Forum Suggestions

More meetings will be held next month involving the bi-state bridges authority and private companies interested in taking part in the Ohio River Bridges Project.

A two-day industry forum last month drew about 800 participants to Louisville.

Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority Executive Director Steve Schultz says officials were unable to hold one-on-one meetings with all the companies that took part in the February event, so another two days of discussions will be held in April.

Schultz says in a summary of the February forum that leaders of construction and other companies have indicated that the 12-year schedule to build two new bridges and re-work Spaghetti Junction could be dramatically shortened, possibly by as much as half.

The governors of Kentucky and Indiana and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer asked the authority to hold the forum to find ways to make the project more efficient.

It currently has a $4.1 billion price tag, but those leaders are proposing scaling down the project to save some $500 million.

The authority’s next meeting is April 7.

Here is LASIBA Executive Director Steve Schultz’s summary of the Feburary industry forum: 

March 3, 2011 

Mr. Charles Buddeke, Chairman 

Mr. Kerry Stemler, Co-Chair 

Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority 

305 N. Hurstborne Lane Suite 175 

Louisville, Kentucky 40223 

Dear Charles and Kerry: 

I want to share with you and the members of the Authority my observations and those of the Bi-State Management Team (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation) regarding the Industry Forum held February 16 and 17.   For starters, those close to the project and independent observers alike agreed that we met our dual objective of (a) communicating the status and vision of the project while (b) listening to and learning from those companies and individuals who have successfully delivered projects of this level of significance and/or who are interested in learning about the opportunities to participate in ours.   We were especially delighted to hear from several of the more seasoned industry participants that, for events of this type, the Forum was as good as, if not better than, others they had attended.  I’m sure we can improve even more next time around. 

While we learned a number of things that will aid the Authority and the state sponsors in advancing the project, I’d like to highlight five key points for your consideration: 

First, the presence and consistent message from Governor Beshear, Governor Daniels and Mayor Fischer underscoring the importance of the project and the need to move quickly and creatively sent a clear signal about the extraordinary partnership that is the project’s hallmark.  Unified and committed leadership is central to private sector interest in a project of this size. 

Second, the eight one-on-one meetings with several large developer/concessionaire/construction firms on the second day confirmed not only that there is strong market interest in the project, but also the opportunities for considering innovative approaches to drive cost reduction and schedule acceleration, as we expected.  In fact, we consistently heard that the current 12-year project construction schedule might be capable of being dramatically compressed – possibly by as much as half.  

Third, their feedback confirmed the necessity of the two states and the Authority considering some form of a public-private partnership model to deliver this project.  This would accelerate its completion and achieve cost savings and substantial schedule acceleration will greatly aid developers in offering committed bids on the project.  Most firms felt a single project delivery contract for the entire project (the bridges and the Kennedy Interchange) would allow the flexibility to deliver the most cost-effective solution.  In addition, the feedback consistently pointed to the need for a single project owner, fully supported and empowered by both states, as the optimal public sponsor for delivery of the project. 

Fourth, local firms and the local workforce will play a major role in delivering the project.  The strong interest displayed during the Day Two networking session helped us better understand what steps we need to take to allow the project to take full advantage of the talent we have in Kentuckiana and the region.  Of particular note was the message from the larger firms who made clear during the one-on-on sessions the importance they place on utilizing local workers and resources to complete a project of this size and complexity.  We heard that numerous local and DBE firms have already begun to form relationships with some of the larger firms, some of whom participated in the networking session on Day Two.  The strong commitment of both KYTC and INDOT to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) will prove complementary to this important element of the project. 

Fifth, let’s do the numbers.  We had more than 950 registrants; we estimate that somewhere between 750 and 800 actually attended at least part of the forum.  

  • About 70% of those registered were from our two states (40% from KY; 30% from IN).  

    o        The remaining approximately 30% were from 28 other states and 3 Canadian provinces.  

    o        Nearly 30% of the participants identified themselves as DBEs.  Dozens of industry fields and professions were represented.

     

    More than 100 of the participants took part in the structured networking session held on Day Two.  

    Through this exercise, we learned a great deal about the potential roles and expectations of small to medium-sized firms.  The participants were able to exchange contact details with a view toward doing some team-building of their own. (We also noted that there was significant informal networking outside of the formal networking session). These participants also, provided us with some very helpful feedback for future outreach efforts.  Recurring themes that surfaced during the discussion include:

     

    o        The need for state sponsors and the Authority to outline the process that will be used in selecting contracting services. 

    o        A better understanding of the role local and smaller firms will play and the opportunities for partnering with larger firms. 

    o        A clear process for submitting cost savings ideas. 

    o        The need to better understand how the project will be managed. 

    Finally, we were over-subscribed with requests for the one-on-one company meetings, so we are planning another two days in early April with other firms who met the criteria (e.g. experience in the lead role on projects greater than $500M). 

    On behalf of everyone involved in the planning and execution of the Forum, I thank you and our other colleagues on the Authority for your contributions to this successful event and for the continued service to this project that is so important to our two states. 

                                                                                                    Regards, 

                                                                                                    Steven R. Schultz 

    CC:          Governor Steve Beshear 

                    Governor Mitch Daniels 

                    Mayor Greg Fischer 

                    LSIBA Members 

                    Commissioner Mike Cline 

                    Secretary Mike Hancock 

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Bridges Project Forum Begins Wednesday

 A two-day forum on how to proceed with the Ohio River Bridges Project will be held this week in Louisville.

Bi-state bridges authority co-chair Kerry Stemler says more than 700 people are registered for the conference, including representatives from engineering and construction firms, government leaders and financial institutions.

“And start thinking about how we can deliver the most cost-effective project, knowing that a greater understanding of the six sections, industry input is valuable; to develop how we can do the project faster, better, cheaper,” he said.

The price tag for the project stands at $4.1 billion, but the governors of Kentucky and Indiana and Mayor Greg Fischer have proposed a scaled back plan they say would save $500 million.

All three will speak at the forum, which begins Wednesday at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Participants are also likely to hear from people opposed to various elements of the project, including those who want it broken up into smaller parts, and those opposed to tolls as a way to pay for it.

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Potential Players In Bridges Project Invited To Forum

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority has scheduled two days in February for an “industry innovation forum” on the Ohio River Bridges Project.

The governors of Kentucky and Indiana requested the event, which will bring together interested
parties from the design, construction, finance and other industries.

Officials say it’s aimed at finding the most modern and cost-effective means of completing the project, which includes two new Ohio River bridges and a reconfigured Spaghetti Junction.

This week, the two governors and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also suggested ways to trim $500 million from the project’s cost, estimated at $4.1 billion.

Gary Valentine with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says the modifictions could also reduce construction time, but not the project’s scope.

“Two bridges, one project and rebuilding Spaghetti Junction. We’re looking at design adjustments, it does not redefine the project,” he told the authority at its meeting Thursday at Indiana University Southeast.

The forum will be held February 16 and 17 at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

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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.”

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Bridges Authority Approves Financing Plan Update

The bi-state bridges authority has approved a financing plan that calls for tolls to pay for roughly half of the 4.1 billion dollar bridges project. The move has inspired an opposition group to reach out to the Kentucky General Assembly for help blocking tolls.

Audio MP3

The financing plan isn’t yet complete. For example, it doesn’t say which bridges will be tolled, and the authority needs federal approval to toll existing bridges. Shawn Reilly with the group Say No To Bridge Tolls says he’s found a legislator who will sponsor a bill to stop such tolls on the state level.

That could lead to a reworking of the project. Authority members have said they won’t drop any part of the plan to build two new bridges and rework Spaghetti Junction in part because it would require years of studying and planning. But Reilly says a similar project in St. Louis was revised fairly quickly.

“They did not need to do a new environmental impact study and they did not need a new record of decision,” he says. “They worked inside their record of decision. So we can model our project after what they did with the Mississippi River Bridges Project.”

Authority co-chair Kerry Stemler says the project will not change, and the financing plan will be updated further.

“There is a lot that needs to be discussed and researched and we will continue to do that in 2011,” he says.

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Public Comments Taken On Bridges Financing Plan

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority heard from the public Monday on a new proposal to pay for half of the bridges project with tolls. Dozens of people on both sides of the issue turned out for the meeting.

Audio MP3

“I’d pay a toll if I had a job,” said Chip White as he stood outside of the meeting. “It’s amazing how you can afford a toll if you’ve got a job.” White is a carpenter. He favors tolls and almost anything else that will get construction started on two new bridges over the Ohio River and a reworked Spaghetti Junction.

“We need the infrastructure,” he said. “We need those jobs. It’ll be better for the community.”

Inside, architect Steve Wiser logged his comment with the authority. He wants the project to be scaled back, so tolls are only used to pay for new infrastructure.

“I’m not against tolls, but I am against tolls on all the existing bridges,” he says.

Authority members were available to talk with attendees, but all comments were taken online, in writing or dictated to stenographers. Wiser did not like the format.

“I think it is pretty pre-arranged as to how they want to accept comments here. So it’s not your typical public forum. I think they have a pre-arranged agenda for this meeting.”

The authority has not decided to toll existing bridges, but would need federal approval to do so. The body will vote Thursday on the financing plan, which relies on roughly two billion dollars in tolls to help pay for the project. Authority members say toll details will change if more money becomes available from the government or other sources.

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Bridges Project May Require Two Billion Dollars In Toll Revenue

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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Bridges Authority To Meet This Week

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority will meet Thursday to consider a recommendation from one of its committees on tolling and a start date for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Last week the authority’s Finance and Construction Committee recommended that construction of two new bridges and the reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction begin as early as August of 2012 and that local commuters be charged a one dollar bridge toll to help pay for it.

The full authority will also have a public hearing on December 13 on an updated financing plan that must be completed by the end of the year. Chairman Charles Buddeke says that will be followed by another meeting
to vote on the plan.

“We’ll come back on the 16th and have the final discusion about what we learned on the 13th, and anything else that’s come along,” he said.

The December 13 public hearing will be held from 4:00-7:00pm at the Muhammad Ali Center. The authority is considering a combination of state and federal funding and tolls to pay for the $4.1billion project.