It’s been a little while since we have talked about that slow moving disaster ready to stamp out so much progress being made in Louisville. I am, of course, describing the Ohio River Bridges Project. In an effort to bring Broken Sidewalk up to date with what’s been going on, here’s a rundown of a few major events. Did I miss anything?
- We left off in September, 2009 after learning that River Fields had filed a lawsuit against the East End Bridge. Check out that story and all our previous coverage of the bridges issue in our archives.
- September 2009: Tunnel for the East End Bridge approach in jeopardy. Removing the tunnel could open the Record of Decision (ROD)
- October 2009: Governor Steve Beshear appoints 11 Kentuckians to the newly created Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority. The KPTIA is an entity that can enter into bi-state agreements for mega-projects like the ORBP and can create bi-state authorities to determine financing (read: tolls) for such projects. The KPTIA votes to create a bi-state authority to oversee the ORBP. Without any real progress on the project, Beshear calls the vote “historic.” Eight days later, Beshear and Abramson appoint seven people to the Kentucky side of the authority. No Metro Council members were appointed despite a request from the body.
- November 2009: Bob Hill pens an incisive piece for Louisville magazine:
“I began going to the public bridge meetings with Daniel Boone. Everyone was very nice; we were asked to vote on the designs we liked best, and then 14 bi-state officials and politicians locked themselves in a room and made the final decisions. In Indiana, developers were selling land and houses to people the developers knew would be in the path of the bridge. In Kentucky, one of the main arguments against the bridge became that it would help create jobs in Indiana—a fine example of upscale regional thinking. Meanwhile, some of the bridge-path land the environmentalists were supposed to be saving was being eaten up with new houses— many of them oversized, hey-look-at-me, energy-eating monstrosities.”
- Property acquisition begins in downtown Jeffersonville and in Utica, Indiana and the Baer Fabrics building and several properties in the east end are secured for destruction as well. A projected completion date of 2020 probably won’t be met.
- The Federal Highway Administration requests that a lawsuit brought by River Fields is moved from Washington DC to a Kentucky court.
- LEO publishes a major article on River Fields questioning the politics and obstructionism of the conservation group and River Fields allegedly pulls the issues from news stands before they can be read (video) and threaten LEO with a lawsuit.
- 8664 reminds us of how the Downtown Bridge component was added to the ORBP in 1994.
- December 2009: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels appoints members to the Indiana side of the bi-state authorityÂ for the ORBP.
- Beshear issues $100 million in bonds for the project and announces it’s time to “Start your engines.” Bonds are to be used for property acquisition in Kentucky.
- The price for the $4.1 billion project hasn’t been updated in almost two years even though Federal rules specify a revised finance plan each fall.
- WFPL reports that Louisville will fail to meet the requirements of the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement calling for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. It’s estimated that 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Louisville are caused by transportation.
- A Federal judge approves the FHA request that the River Fields lawsuit be moved to a Kentucky court.
- Gov. Beshear admits that Kentucky is facing up to a $1.5 Billion budget shortfall for 2011-12.
- Federal funding is about to be cut to local transportation projects because no financing plan is in place for the ORBP.
- January 2010: By mid-January, the ORBP bi-state authority still hasn’t met despite an anticipated first meeting in December. The authority has until December 2010 to determine a financing plan. Mayor Abramson is skeptical that Federal rules will be enforced cutting local transportation funding.
- February 2010: The ORBP bi-state authority finally has its first meeting with no real progress (by-laws are approved, a staff is hired, and a schedule set) and was largely rushed to avoid public outcry over inaction. As usual, a non-step is declared “historic” by Beshear & Abramson.
- The projected completion date is now 2024 but no one really knows for sure and politicians throw out random numbers. Beshear: “We want this done as fast as possible. I don’t know what that means, but to me , it means faster than ten years.”
- Jeffersonville wants to bail out Louisville for not having a funding mechanism and Councilman Ron Grooms admits that “The majority of Indiana residents don’t want to pay tolls.”
- The C-J‘s misguided editorial board lashes out at political hopefuls who want to build an East End Bridge first (basically all of them) and requisite backlash ensues from Tyler Allen who delivers an address in front of the Courier-Journal‘s Broadway headquarters.
- The N & T declares that 8664 is not dead. The bi-state authority meets again and actually talks about financing but only in a superficial way without any solutions.
- KIPDA seeks exemption from Federal rules that would cut funding to local projects because a financing plan for the ORBP is still unknown.
- Congressman Yarmuth meets with US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to ask about funding options.
- Several trucks overturn on local highways including one carrying onions on Spaghetti Junction reminding us that a new Junction will still face delays and shut-downs from bad drivers.
- Indiana authorizes the use of public-private partnerships to be used for the ORBP meaning a private company would build the highway and charge tolls to use it.
- March 2010: Toll Road News finds the political claims that the ORBP will create jobs “discouraging:”
“Most discouraging is the nonsense spouted by some of the champions of these projects. Senator Ed Charbonneau (Repub) for example called the bill “the jobs bill of this session” claiming it will “create 30,000 jobs.”
“Such enthusiasm is touching, but road projects are not to “create jobs.” If they were we’d ban all machinery and have all the work done with picks and shovels.
“These projects are to serve motorists by saving them time and travel expense and they have to be judged by the financial viability – whether they can attract sufficient in toll payments by motorists to support the costs—which have to minimized with the optimum mix of labor and equipment, not with “job creation” in mind.”
- ORBP bi-state authority says it won’t consider tolls on the Second Street / Clark Memorial Bridge but says all other bridges are fair game meaning the oldest bridge carrying auto-traffic in the city will now be the most congested. Some on the authority call for a study of tolling Spaghetti Junction. Any toll would require a Federal exemption and per Fed rule, no current bridge can be tolled unless it is reconstructed.
- Bi-state authority plans to hire an “advisory team” with potentially an investment bank like Goldman Sachs represented to study financing options. It could be a way to pass the buck for the unpopular notion of tolling the bridges. Approval from the KY General Assembly is first required. Officials from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase attended the ORBP bi-state authority meeting.
- Anti-toll groups emerging on the Internet (Facebook here and here)
- Traffic in Maryland is slow to recover meaning toll revenues are drastically down and rate hikes are imminent. Could the same thing happen to Kentucky toll roads?