i-Team Investigation: Do the new bridge numbers add up?


by Joe Arnold


Posted on September 24, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 25 at 12:58 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The future traffic load on Louisville's Ohio River Bridges will be about twenty percent less than originally forecast, according to a traffic and revenue study released on Aug. 30.

Factor in drivers avoiding tolls and the future downtown I-65 corridor with two bridges will actually carry fewer drivers than currently use the I-65 Kennedy Bridge, according to the study by Boston-based Steer Davies Gleave, commissioned by the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority.

"There's a whole lot of bait and switch in this," complained Tyler Allen, a critic of the two bridge plan now under construction by the Ohio River Bridges Project.

"What we've tried to do is take a conservative approach to estimating traffic in the area," explained Secretary Mike Hancock of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, "and I think by and large that's the reason for the smaller numbers."

Currently, about 225,000 vehicles cross the Ohio each day on Louisville's three bridges.

An environmental impact study conducted a decade ago estimated 362,900 daily river crossings in the year 2030.

The new study dials that projection down to only 285,000 river crossings per day.

"The numbers are radically lower than anything they suggested," Allen said, suggesting that initial projections were inflated to pave the way for a two bridge plan rather than the east end bridge only plan he advocated.

"There is no other way to look at it than that," Allen continued.  "These numbers are so incredibly different."
Hancock sees it differently though.

"I don't see it that way at all," Hancock said.  "We approached this project with some goals in mind.  And those goals had everything to do with safety and mobility and connectivity."

And, Kentucky's top transportation official explained to WHAS11 that the conflicting studies are not comparable because they were commissioned for different reasons.

Hancock said the new "investment grade" toll revenue study is intentionally conservative because toll bond buyers need to be confident - no matter what - the project will generate enough money to pay off the bonds.

"Basically what I said to them is make sure that we look at this project from the perspective of what happens if revenues or traffic volumes aren't as high as originally projected," Hancock said in an interview at his Frankfort office.

The $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project includes a new downtown I-65 northbound bridge, a rehabilitated I-65 Kennedy Bridge which will convey southbound traffic, a reconfigured and improved "Spaghetti Junction," and an east end bridge.

The study also predicts that fewer total drivers will use the two downtown I-65 bridges than the number who crosses on just the Kennedy today.

In 2012, the I-65 Kennedy Bridge handled 122,000 vehicles per day.

The study projects that in 2030, the two I-65 bridges combined will carry about 30 percent less--87,000 vehicles total per day.

"It's going to be brand new, cleaned up roadways and far fewer cars using it," Allen said.

Hancock explained that a number of factors figure into the reduction in I-65 traffic, downtown.  The study projects 45,000 east end crossings per day in 2030, plus some drivers will avoid paying tolls and take the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge and Clark Memorial (Second Street) Bridge, instead.

"What we are really doing is dispersing traffic across the whole system," Hancock said, with the reminder that the Kennedy Bridge and Spaghetti Junction are 50-years-old.

"We were going to have to come in and upgrade those facilities anyway," he said.

"We feel good that where we are is where we need to be and that the project will prove itself over time," Hancock said.

An Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman echoed Hancock's comments, reiterating the purpose and need of the Ohio River Bridge Project has not changed.

INDOT pointed to a joint report published by INDOT traffic engineers and Purdue University researchers which showed the impact of the five-month Sherman Minton Closure in 2011-12 and Southern Indiana's disproportionate traffic congestion on I-65 Southbound compared to other interstate segments across Indiana.


WHAS11 is your official station for the Ohio River Bridges Project, click here for complete coverage on whas11.com.