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Daniels, Beshear reach agreement on bridges

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Construction on two new bridges spanning the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana could begin in late 2012, with the spans open before the end of the decade, Kentucky and Indiana officials said Thursday.

Contracts for the $2.6 billion projects would be bid out within the next year under the deal reached by Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and Ind. Gov. Mitch Daniels. Each state would be responsible for about $1.3 billion of the total cost.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock said work could begin by the end of 2012, with "visible construction" starting in early 2013.

"By 2018, hopefully, you'll find both bridges open to traffic," Hancock told reporters Thursday afternoon during a conference call. "If we're successful with a good bidder, by the end of next year we could see contractors mobilizing to do work."

Kentucky would be responsible for building a new Interstate 65 bridge, refurbishing the Kennedy Bridge, modernizing the Kennedy Interchange, and expanding the I-65 approach in Indiana.

Indiana would be responsible for constructing a new bridge across the river at Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky., a new highway linking the Lee Hamilton Expressway and Gene Snyder Freeway, and a tunnel in eastern Jefferson County.

Tolls would help to cover the cost of construction.

"By playing to each state's strengths, we are lowering the cost of the project, increasing competition, and speeding the construction of these critical bridges," Beshear said in a statement.

Daniels declined comment through a spokeswoman.

The proposal for bridge tolls has drawn opposition in Kentucky and Indiana. Paul Fetter, head of Organization For A Better Southern Indiana, Inc., said tolls are not in "best interest" of community, but he was glad to see the cost of the project reduced.

"Our leaders continue to listen, but it looks like they still have a little work to do," Fetter told The Associated Press. Hopefully we can get this thing resolved in the next few months."

The land conservation group River Fields also sued the Federal Highway Administration over the plans for the east end bridge, saying the environmental impact study for the bridges project wasn't properly done. That suit is pending in federal court in Louisville. A message left for a River Fields spokesman was not immediately returned late Thursday.

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority would help coordinate the construction projects, which would be coupled under a single financial plan.

The Bridges Authority has been working to build consensus between the states on their preferred approach. That resulted in the agreement between Beshear and Daniels on a plan that they say will save $1.5 billion.

The original cost estimate on the projects was $4.1 billion. The states will supplement revenue from tolls with state and federal transportation funds

"The money is basically coming from a combination of sources," Hancock said.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents the Louisville area, called the deal "encouraging" and hopes that it gets the long-anticipated project off the ground.

"We know we can afford it," Yarmuth said. "We know how to pay for it."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer estimated that the project will create about 5,000 jobs over the course of the construction. Fischer added that tolls are a necessity to pay for the work.

"In this environment, you need tolls to get things done," Fischer said.

The new spans wouldn't replace the Kennedy Bridge, the I-65 bridge or the Sherman Minton Bridge, which is currently closed. Instead, the new bridges and an untangled interchange in downtown Louisville, where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge, are expected to alleviate traffic on the older spans and compensate for population growth in the region.

The Sherman Minton Bridge, which carries motorists along I-64 between Louisville and southern Indiana, shut down earlier this year because of structural deficiencies. Indiana officials hope to have the span reopened by spring.

Fischer said that shutdown "really sharpened people's minds" about the new bridges project.

"If another bridge went down, we'd be in the 1800s as far as transportation went," Fischer said.

Yarmuth said the tentative deal between Indiana and Kentucky should also help the state and Ohio in the ongoing struggle to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects northern Kentucky and southern Ohio along Interstates 71 and 75, by laying out a roadmap of how such a deal could work. President Barack Obama visited southern Ohio and used the Brent Spence as an example of infrastructure that needed replacing and upgrading.

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  1. These liberals are out of control. They want to drive our economy into the ground and double and triple our electric bills. Sierra Club, stay out of Indy!

  2. These activist liberal judges have gotten out of control. Thankfully we have a sensible supreme court that overturns their absurd rulings!

  3. Maybe they shouldn't be throwing money at the IRL or whatever they call it now. Probably should save that money for actual operations.

  4. For you central Indiana folks that don't know what a good pizza is, Aurelio's will take care of that. There are some good pizza places in central Indiana but nothing like this!!!

  5. I am troubled with this whole string of comments as I am not sure anyone pointed out that many of the "high paying" positions have been eliminated identified by asterisks as of fiscal year 2012. That indicates to me that the hospitals are making responsible yet difficult decisions and eliminating heavy paying positions. To make this more problematic, we have created a society of "entitlement" where individuals believe they should receive free services at no cost to them. I have yet to get a house repair done at no cost nor have I taken my car that is out of warranty for repair for free repair expecting the government to pay for it even though it is the second largest investment one makes in their life besides purchasing a home. Yet, we continue to hear verbal and aggressive abuse from the consumer who expects free services and have to reward them as a result of HCAHPS surveys which we have no influence over as it is 3rd party required by CMS. Peel the onion and get to the root of the problem...you will find that society has created the problem and our current political landscape and not the people who were fortunate to lead healthcare in the right direction before becoming distorted. As a side note, I had a friend sit in an ED in Canada for nearly two days prior to being evaluated and then finally...3 months later got a CT of the head. You pay for what you get...

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