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Legislators, Including Covington's Simpson, Get Update on Louisville Bridge Project, Tolls

 A legislative panel received a status report Tuesday on a $2.3 billion roads project that included digging a tunnel and erecting two interstate bridges – the first spans constructed over the Ohio River in that region of the state for the last half century.

When Rep. Steve Riggs (D-Louisville) asked a state highway engineer the biggest surprise in managing the project – one of the biggest public works projects currently under construction in Northern America – the engineer didn’t hesitate with an answer.

“My biggest surprise, having some history in construction, is how smoothly everything is going,” said Andy Barber, who is managing the bridge project for the Kentucky Transpiration Cabinet. “What could have gone wrong, has not gone wrong.”

The lawmakers heard Barber’s testimony during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transpiration held at the Muhammad Ali Center, which overlooks the Ohio River and the new downtown Louisville bridge. Lawmakers toured the bridge construction sites after the meeting.

Riggs reminisced that his father relocated to Louisville more than 50 years ago to work on the last bridges constructed over the Ohio River in Louisville.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that,” he said.

When Barber said the bridges were first conceived 46 years ago to relieve traffic, Sen. Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro) asked if it would take that long for the Interstate 69 bridge project in Western Kentucky to come to fruition.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock said it will depend on the funding.

Under what has been touted as a model for the nation, Indiana is overseeing the construction of the so-called East End bridge between Utica, Ind., and Prospect. That bridge will link Lee Hamilton Expressway in Indiana and the Gene Snyder Freeway in Kentucky, completing a loop around the east end of the metropolitan area. Indiana is using a private sector team for financing, construction and long-term maintenance of the bridge.

Kentucky is overseeing the financing and construction of the downtown portion – a new Interstate 65 bridge, a reconfigured Kennedy Bridge and modernization of the downtown interchanges on both sides of the river. The Commonwealth will use money collected from tolls to help pay for the project.

Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) asked how the tolls would be collected.

“We are using all electronic tolling which means there won’t be toll booths,” Hancock said. “There will be no cash stations. We will take a picture of your license plate, cross reference that with some of our databases and send you a bill. No one will have to stop.”

Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington) asked what would happened if toll revenue projections don’t materialize.

“We can’t imagine that won’t materialize,” Hancock said.

Hancock and Barber emphasized the economic impact the project is having on the region.

Over the next 30 years, the project is expected to infuse $87 billion in the economy, create 15,000 area jobs, add $29.5 billion in personal income and $7 billion in tax revenues, according to figures presented to the committee.

“We are not the only cranes in the sky,” Barber said in reference to the cranes towering over the new downtown Louisville bridge and other construction projects. “We are really seeing a lot of development despite the temporary inconvenience of the road construction. It is very exciting.”

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo via Louisville & Southern Indiana Bridges Authority