INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Officials in southern Indiana are proposing the state pay Kentucky’s unfunded share of construction costs on two new bridges over the Ohio River to avoid tolls.
Toll opponents in Clark County, Ind., believe forcing motorists to pay to cross the bridges would hurt their business, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., reported Monday.
The deal between the states would require tolls because officials have concluded that taxes alone won’t cover the project’s estimated $2.3 billion cost.
“From our perspective what we have is the best way to go,” Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock told the newspaper.
The project calls for two bridges: One between Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky., and the other carrying northbound Interstate 65 traffic alongside the Kennedy Bridge in Louisville, which would become a southbound route. The states have divided work on the project, with Kentucky overseeing a new downtown bridge and a rebuilt section of interstate, and Indiana in charge of a new eastern Jefferson County crossing.
The agreement between the states calls for tolls to help pay for two new bridges, but toll rates haven’t been determined.
Small business owners near I-65 have long complained that even a small toll could dissuade Kentuckians from shopping or dining in Indiana. Paul Fetter, a Clarksville town councilman leading the opposition to tolls, agrees.
“Indiana should look at ways to mitigate the negative impact of tolls,” he said.
Fetter and Jim Keith, executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau, said they have met with state officials and contacted the office of Gov. Mike Pence.
Pence previously has said he intends to follow through on the agreement, which was reached during Mitch Daniels’ administration.
Southern Indiana lawmakers said the no-toll proposal doesn’t stand much of a chance.
New Albany Rep. Ed Clere says the idea is wishful thinking and could undermine a project that could boost the area’s economy. A study forecast the project could create more than 9,000 jobs over 30 years in Indiana and nearly 18,000 spin-off positions over 30 years in Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana and counties in northern Kentucky.
But seven downtown Jeffersonville businesses will be required to move because of bridge construction, and five Jeffersonville businesses estimated the project could cut their trade by half.
“I think you’re fooling yourself if you think some of that positive economic impact is going to go to the west end of Louisville or the west end of Clark County,” said Jeffersonville City Councilman Dennis Julius.
Charlestown Sen. Jim Smith said the tourism board’s proposal makes sense, but the decision about tolls has already been made.
“Those battles have already been fought and my side lost,” he said.