Friday, January 19, 2007

Louisville's Bridge Woes

In the latest installment of the drama-mystery series, The Ohio River Bridges Project, it was announced that the total cost of the project will soar to a staggering 3.9 BILLION dollars. The 60 percent jump in the price tag come from new inflation corrections to the previous estimate of a modest 2.5 billion dollars.

This latest news, which was originally announced in December 2006, has caused many Kentucky lawmakers to recoil from their stated support of the multi-state, multi-decade project. In the most current 6 year road plan, Kentucky has promised nearly 800 million dollars to the project, but that could be slashed in the 2008 Legislative Session if compromise and different funding measures cannot be worked out.

Several new theories are being floated around for alternative funding - and one of the most basic ways would be to make the new bridge in the East End a toll bridge. However, that option was thrown out early on as studies indicated that a toll bridge would slow traffic greatly and toll proceeds would not meet outlays due to decreased numbers of people who would be willing to drive across a pay-per-use bridge. This option though is getting at least a temporary reprieve as analysts will look for new ways to squeeze a penny out of a dry sponge.

If tolls prove to be unsavory, then what about a TIF district? That is actually a new proposal that hadn't been widely discussed earlier in the project. But if that were an option, where would it go? Would the state be able to capture taxes from predominantly residential Prospect? Or would the TIF grow huge and also encompass nearby commercial districts? Who knows? No one right now, but at least the option is on the table.

What about a public-private partnership? I don't even know what this would entail. The only way I can see a private company making money from a venture like this is tolls, and we already know that leaders are quite averse to using that funding line. Unless we can name the bridge the McDO Bridge of DOOM!!! with plasma screens bedecking the whole thing advertising Big Macs and milkshakes, I dunno how a private partnership would work. Someone with more knowledge on this option should leave a comment.

In today's Courier-Journal, there was a mention of funding with the help of developers. The story said that, for example, let developers build hotels as a part of the project. I suppose they mean that the new taxes from these hotels could partially help the defray the cost of the bridges - but since when will these new bridges require new hotels to be built? This option also needs more explaining.

Now, the total cost of the project is right on the cusp of 4 billion dollars if, and only if, it is completed in 2023. We can still reduce the time needed, accelerate the process, and get it built at the original 2.5 billion dollar mark...or at least that is what we're being told. And I have to say that while I dunno if the project would cost only 2.5 billion dollars, I do bet it would cost less than 4 billion dollars if Kentucky would pull it's head out of it's behind and push forward.

Mitch Daniels(R), the governor of Indiana, promised to fully fund the Indiana portion of the project (approximately 1/3) with money he got from Indiana's Major Moves initiative. He even went to Kentucky to ask them to fully fund their portion of the bill and get this project built 10 years ahead of schedule. Daniels made the argument that waiting is only costing both states more money and costing both states jobs. Daniels has been very wise to extol the economic possibilities of Clark County, and the Indiana suburbs of Louisville, and sees the area as one of Indiana's brightest spots for development. The Indiana suburbs, with a population of over 265,000, are comparable to other Indiana cities such as Lafayette, Evansville, and South Bend. The area is even larger than Terre Haute or Kokomo...and most Hoosiers don't realize so many people live in the Southern Indiana suburbs...but Mitch Daniels does.

Now, some people may wonder how Daniels found his needed 900 million dollars, or so, for the Indiana side of these new bridges. He made a bold and daring gamble - he sold the Indiana Toll Road in Northern Indiana to a private firm and raked in BILLIONS of dollars for other state projects. With his money he will fund I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, building the bridges to Louisville, completely overhaul US 31 from Carmel to South Bend, and complete the Hoosier Heartland Highway from Lafayette to Fort Wayne...along with hundreds of smaller state needs.

Now, I look at that and wonder, how can Kentucky do the same thing? The problem is, that while Kentucky has several toll highways, none of them a very highly used, and the current trend in the Fletcher administration has been to turn toll roads into freeways. Sadly, all of Kentucky's major highways are freeways, and you can't simple sell a freeway to a private company to make it into a tollway. So a Mitch Daniels-style selling of Kentucky roads looks slim-to-none.


While this is currently a big brouhaha in political circles, it is my feeling that these bridges will be completed. John Yamuth, while an idealistic supporter of 8664, also knows the realities that it won't happen. He also wants to get this project done sooner than later. The costs will escalate as time goes by, and the political will also continue to ebb away from all those involved. I think that prior to the 2008 Legislative session, you'll see a slew of new funding sources, and a faster timetable proposed. While I certainly have doubts about this project being completed, I also know that there will be lots of very important people behind the scenes finding the cash needed.

Let's hope they do. Louisville needs these new bridges and Spaghetti Junction redo.


The Urbanophile said...

How many counties are you adding up to get to 265,000? Clark + Floyd + Harrison is only about 200,000. The spending by Indiana is vastly out of line with the population. The $1.2 billion Indiana share is actually as much as Indiana is planning to spend in Indianapolis. How Kentucky suckered Indiana to paying so much money largely for Kentucky's benefit is one of the all time mysteries of the world. And this isn't the only example. Down the river, Indiana went 50/50 on a new bridge for Owensboro and is spending $150 million to build a four lane road linking Owensboro to I-64 in a county with virtually no Hoosier in it. Amazing. Nice work if you can get it.

Jacob said...

The counties that make up the Indiana section of the Louisville MSA are Clark, Floyd, Harrison, and Washington. Scott County is also it's own Micropolitan Area that is part of the Louisville CSA. Until 2003 Scott County was actually still a part of the Louisville MSA. Both Scott and Washington have around 30,000 inhabitants.

If the project is completed within the next decade Indiana will not be spending 1.2 billion dollars, but will be spending around 800 or 900 million dollars.

What is interesting about you saying that these bridges will mostly benefit Louisville is that most Louisvillians think these bridges will help Hoosiers more.

Along the route of the Indiana approach is Indiana's Port of Jeffersonville, which is the fastest growing waterport in the state. Also connected to the bridge approach is old Indiana Ammunition Plant which is being turned into one of the largest new distribution parks in Indiana. Also near the path of the new bridge is Indiana's newest, and last, certified Technology Parks.

On one hand, I understand questioning the project by citizens from Central Indiana, but on the other hand, these connections are incredibly important for the local economy in Southern Indiana. Hundreds of thousands of people cross the bridges each day, and both of my parents cross those bridges everyday. The slightest problem on those bridges can lead to headaches for HOURS. And it happens several times a week that one or more lanes on those bridges are blocked. The Indiana suburbs are as big or bigger than many of the most well known cities in the state.

In the end, Mitch Daniels has said this is an economic development project for not just Clark County, but for Indiana as a whole. The bigger you can make the economy in Southern Indiana, the more they contribute to Indiana coffers. It will help lure more distribution firms to the Indiana side of the river.

Other majot projects the state is completing like I-69 only goes through only 1 notible town between Indianapolis and Evansville - yet we look at this as a win for the whole state. The Hoosier Heartland Highway is hundreds of millions of dollars, but it cuts through nothing but farms and forest between Fort Wayne and Lafayette. And US31 doesn't cut through any major cities, except Kokomo, between Indianapolis and South Bend. Yet these projects are looked at wins for the economy of Indiana as a whole. They facilitate the movement of gods in a state that is trying to build a reputation as a logistics hub. These bridges help continue these developments.

Jacob said...

BTW, thanks for reading and posting. ;-)