A plan for local access bridges (Courtesy Steve Wiser)
A plan for local access bridges (Courtesy Steve Wiser)
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A plan for local access bridges (Courtesy Steve Wiser)
A plan for local access bridges. (Courtesy Steve Wiser)

Steve Wiser, a local architect, historian, and occasional contributor to Broken Sidewalk, has been tweaking his proposal for a solution to the Ohio River Bridges Project that involves local access bridges as opposed to Interstate highway bridges (that we first published last April). He will be presenting his ideas tomorrow (Saturday, March 6) at Destinations Booksellers – Dueling Grounds Cafe at 604 East Spring Street in New Albany.

Here’s some information about the event:

As the prospect of tolls on the Kentucky-Indiana Ohio River Bridges edges closer, one local design professional is proposing a more rational and less costly solution to the cross-river commute.

Architect Steve Wiser says new local access bridges at several points along the river in Clark, Floyd, and Jefferson counties would eliminate congestion and perhaps forestall the dislocations and expense of what’s being called the Ohio River Bridges Project. With a bi-state authority just beginning its deliberations, Wiser says now is the time to explore the alternatives.

A cursory examination of readily available data shows that Indiana residents would be paying a disproportionate share of tolls or user fees. More Hoosiers work in Kentucky than Kentuckians who work in Indiana.

The toll-free local access plan is roughly outlines in the diagram above and begins with the construction of the East End Bridge as planned. Instead of the extremely expensive Downtown portion of the bridges project (including the $2 Billion junction overhaul), Wiser proposes two local access bridges—one from Jefferson to Floyd County, Indiana and one to Clark County. A busway would tie everything together.

Here’s Steve Wiser’s synopsis of the plan titled “Boiling a Frog: Time to ‘Jump’ to a Toll-Free Better Bridge Solution:”

Have we lost all perspective on how this will negatively harm our community’s growth? This drastic situation did not occur overnight. It’s been a slow, steady 50 year process that has resulted in this worst case scenario.

Costs have skyrocketed almost 2,000 percent since the initial projection of $200 million was made for the east end bridge in 1990. The tunnel alone has soared 300 percent in just the last three years.

If today, without all this past history, a task force recommended a $4.1 billion dollar, two bridge, massive overhaul of spaghetti junction, toll-funded proposal, both governors would respond: “are you NUTS!?! You want to divide our two states with tolls? Go back and find a more realistic solution.”

So, its surprising no one in a leadership position says, “whoa, let’s take a step back. Is this really the best way to create cross-river connections?”

No one wants any more delays or increased costs. In fact, folks want the bridges built faster, at a lower cost, with no tolls. The reason given for this lock-step approach to this bewildering scheme is that it’s the only solution both states can agree on. And, the Record of Decision (ROD) by the federal highway department can’t be revised.

Well, a simple Google search reveals that changes happen on RODs all the time, so that doesn’t seem to be a major roadblock. Certainly the costs and schedule for this project have constantly spiraled upward without any leader complaining that these ballooning excesses are harmful to the project’s implementation.

As to the only bi-state solution, well, Kentucky and Indiana work together routinely, without such drama, tolls, or complicated process, to build bridges across the Ohio River such as the recent Owensboro Natcher Bridge, and the upcoming Madison, Indiana Bridge.

So, in taking a cue from Gov. Daniels charge to the bridge authority to consider every option and approach this task in a business-like manner, and not government-like, I submit my proposal:

  • Build the east end bridge without the tunnel
  • Instead of the tunnel, relocate the Drumanard mansion, recreating the landscape, as the Olmsted Interpretative Center
  • Build two new local-access bridges adjacent to the Clark and K & I bridges
  • Build new access connector for I-71 and I-64 for the east downtown-med center-arena-waterfront districts
  • Build an elevated busway along the waterfront connecting these two new local-access bridges

My guestimate for this proposal would cost $1.4 billion, saving $2.7 billion (based on ORBP figures). It would spur economic development in west Louisville, east downtown, and southern Indiana.

This is doable within a 5 year timeframe, and without tolls. It also lessens the environmental footprint, and thus avoids an ROD complication.

To continue on the current path will put at a great disadvantage our logistics-based economy and overall quality of life.

Most are familiar with the tale of how to boil a frog: slowly turn up the heat so the frog does not jump out. Hopefully, there is still time to alter this growth threatening, extreme makeover and jump out to a more reasonable, beneficial bridge solution which makes our metro community a much better place in which to live.

Check out Steve’s entire proposal at his web site Wiser Designs.

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Branden Klayko


  1. Move the Drumanard Estate? I thought Broken Sidewalk was about saving historic structures, not moving them. Why not get rid of the Downtown bridge to save money? Once the East End bridge is built, there will certainly be less traffic on the Kennedy. Why do we need both?

  2. Well the structure would be saved. It would be in another location. Sounds like a plan worth exploring if there is the potential to save billions of $$$$$$!!!! And I would bet most of the traffic on our interstate bridges is local traffic, makes sense to build more local access bridges!

  3. The presentation at Destinations is at 11:00 a.m. I may have missed it, but I didn't see that mentioned anywhere.

  4. I have started a facebook page, Say No To Bridge Tolls. Please join it and post comments.

    After attending the first three meetings of the Bi-State Bridges Authority, I am more convinced then ever that the current Bridges Project plan is an epic mistake for Louisville.

    I have also found another facebook page (it may have been started by

    Mr. Wiser), No Tolls on Sherman-Minton or Kennedy Bridge, Ever.

  5. Sam: there will be numerous historic buildings demo'd in downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville. My proposal would avoid these demolitions. And, if the affluent east end residents want the tunnel, then they should privately fund such a tunnel. No where else would a community pay $260 million dollars to tunnel under such a property. Either relocate it or have the east end folks pay to tunnel under it.

  6. Based on the rough sketch, it's hard to understand what the I-64/I-71, waterfront, and medical center access connector would consist of. Also, I think this plan would yield the best results if combined with converting the riverfront x-way to an at grade 45 MPH parkway between I-65 and 22nd st. The parking lot across from the baseball park could feature a plaza that spans the new parkway to provide safe and convenient pedestrian access. Other pedestrian overpasses could be built at the arena, and the Muhammad Ali center plaza. The idea that we should spend 300+ million on a tunnel, which is not even going to be safe for hazardous cargo, to protect a property that no one can even visit is beyond absurd.

  7. I feel very positive about the thrust of Wiser’s proposal. It’s definitely smart thinking, and it comes from somebody I _know_ cares about Louisville, its past and its future.

    My only concern is that I think there needs to be a much simpler image devised that concentrates on the local access bridges and the streets they would connect. I think more people would be able to absorb the idea that way. Also, if there could be a graphic that shows how much interstate traffic would be taken over by the new local access bridges would be a plus.

    For practical political purposes, I think everyone who cares about Louisville’s transportation future needs to support the ORBP getting started, as long as the East End Bridge is maintained as being completed first. If the East End Bridge performs as most of us expects (according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s study no less), the political equation with respect to the rest of the ORBP might change.

    As for the tunnel, even though I think it is as ridiculous as most seem to think, I say let’s go ahead with it. I am convinced this (along with the second downtown I-65 bridge and 23-lane-wide Kennedy Interchange) was added as a project sinker, and for engineering reasons we’ll get to a point where it causes a stoppage in the project until the bi-state bridges authority re-opens the ROD to remove the tunnel from the project, which shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. The River Fields NIMBYists out there set us up, and the process for removing the tunnel from the project will give them yet another moment to sludge it up with a lawsuit.

  8. Steve: thanks for your comments. the only problem though is that once tolls are approved later this year for the ENTIRE project, all of the massive ORBP will be built. Thus, there will not be any possibility to see whether or not the east end bridge will be able to handle the congestion situation. Plus, it will have a toll on it which will force folks to not use it as much. So, if the toll method is not defeated now as a funding source, then ORBP will happen as currently planned.

  9. Steve W: Would it be helpful if those of us opposed to ORBP as planned emailed or called the people on the tolling committee (I think I recall reading that there is one) asking them to oppose tolls? If so, can anyone provide that info?

  10. Thanks Steve, once again your insight is invaluable. If only the powers would listen. Tolls will be a burden on commuters, primarily from Indiana, cause tremendous traffic on the Clark if it is toll free(can you imagine the bridge during an arena event?), and keep retail dollars out of South Indiana from Louisville. I really think that they just want the construction dollars and to hell with the results.

  11. I want to make it clear that I also oppose tolls, but especially on existing bridges. I think there are other reasonable ways to pay for this new infrastructure (especially if it all were scaled down), but tolling is an easy political answer for politicians.

    I also have to say that I don’t see the logic that approving tolling forces the entire ORBP plan to come about. The ROD can be re-opened after the East End Bridge is complete, no matter how it’s being paid for.

  12. As for influencing the funding decisions of the bi-state bridges authority, I think it’s crystal clear that this board was set up expressly to operate outside of politics. I’m afraid that their decisions will be made and there’s nothing The People can do about it at this point. Prove me wrong, but I don’t think anyone will.

  13. Where are all the studies, plans, profiles, environmental approval, traffic studies, properties to be purchased, utilities to move, detailed costs, approval from the Corp of Engineers for the navigation clearance requirements, etc, etc, that supports this “idea”?????

    How many years will it take to achieve this. it takes several years to do the necessary environmental studies and be approved.

    Who is going to pay for it, obviously not the Feds or the State, so is Metro going to pay for it???

    Pencil lines on a map are “nice” but the “concept” is a drop in the bucket for the requirements to have an approved project. And what if alot of people prefer the interstates be taken care of first or someone else puts pencil marks on a map.

    This will still be being discussed with “ideas” 50 years from now and nothiong will have been accomplished at this rate.