Bridges project changes estimated to trim $1.2 billion from cost


by Joe Arnold

Posted on June 2, 2011 at 10:32 PM

Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - An analysis of the downsizing proposal of the Ohio River Bridges Project estimates the changes will shave $1.2 billion off the current $4.1 billion price tag.
Mayor Greg Fischer and Governor Steve Beshear announced the new $2.9 billion estimate on Thursday in a news conference at Metro Hall.
"The good news is, the potential cost reductions are greater than we thought," Beshear said.
Insiders had always said that the original estimate of $500 million in savings was a lowball number.
The analysis projects the biggest savings --$800 million -- at Spaghetti Junction:
The largest savings would result from:
•        Rebuilding the downtown Kennedy Interchange in place rather than moving it to the south – $800 million less;
•        Eliminating flyover ramps and making other design changes on the Indiana interstate approach to the newly expanded I-65 bridges – $215 million less; and
•        Reducing the East End Bridge, roadway and tunnel from six to four lanes – $174 million less.

The original plan drastically expanded the footprint of the downtown Kennedy Interchange.
The slimmed down version rebuilds it in the existing footprint and addresses one of the top concerns of, Tyler Allen, co-founder of 86-64 and a long time critic of the downtown bridge proposal and proposed widening of Interstate 64 in downtown Louisville.
"To see that they are heading in the direction of not destroying our downtown with a 23 lane wide interchange is very good news," Allen said, adding that details of the plan still need to be learned.
Another prevailing question is what functionality is being sacrificed by the trimming of 25 percent of the overall cost. 
"We are not being shortchanged," said Mike Hancock of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, "In fact, what we have is a more constructible project than we had previously.  One that is simpler to build has fewer right of way impacts and will provide a level of service for the community for the future that it desperately needs."
Though the governor and mayor say that the $1.2 billion downsizing could be just the start of savings, neither would estimate how much more money could be trimmed from the project with low interest rates, competitive bidding and a quicker construction timeline.
"Obviously, those are the things that we're going to be very aggressive in pushing is to try to reduce that timeline," Beshear said.
Yet, when the governor was asked how much more could be trimmed from the price tag, Fischer stepped in front of the microphone.
"I don't think you want to commit to that," Fischer said to Beshear's chuckle, "but I can tell you that during the innovation forum, we really haven't seen the savings from the power of the private sector yet."
"We need to get moving," Fischer said, "There's a cost to money that if there is any significant delay obviously that continues to increase the cost."
The mayor makes no bones about it.  He is "all in" on the two bridge plan and the cost savings to make it a reality.
But is he committed enough to the Ohio River Bridges Project to ask some key political supporters to drop a lawsuit against it?
Several of the key players involved with River Fields, a local environmental group, were also key political supporters for Fischer's 2010 mayoral campaign.
A lawsuit filed by River Fields and one other group that is pending in federal court challenges whether the Ohio River Bridges Project has proven that two bridges are needed, in particular whether an east end bridge is justified.
Fischer was asked if he has made any personal effort to intervene among political supporters who are also River Fields supporters, to drop the lawsuit or make any other kind of consideration.
"That process is working itself out and it's evolving," Fischer replied, "I have not gotten personally involved at this point in time."
"The bottom line is this," Beshear said, "Governor Daniels, Mayor Fischer and I are dead serious about getting these bridges built."
Hancock said that the lawsuit is an obvious factor in the project's timeline and has been recently discussed as a concern of the Federal Highway Administration.
"It is an issue that constantly is there but it's one that we're working everyday to make sure that we strike the appropriate balance here with all the effected parties and move through effectively," Hancock said.
Tolls remain a part of the financing plan of any bridges configuration, the officials said.
"It is reassuring to see our elected officials responding to the will of the community. Thank you to the over 10,000 local folks that signed our Say NO to Bridge Tolls petition.  Today wouldn't have happened without them." said Say NO to Bridge Tolls Co-Founder Shawn Reilly in a statement, "With the reduced cost estimates for the project we are calling on Governor Beshear and Mayor Fischer to prioritize this project in the Kentucky Transportation Department's budget and to fully fund the project without the need for tolls on the I-65 corridor."
The public will be invited to review and comment on the proposed changes and two other options at two public meetings:
•        Indiana Meeting – June 27, 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Holiday Inn Lakeview Louisville – North, 505 Marriott Drive, Clarksville, Ind.
•        Kentucky Meeting – June 28, 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Holiday Inn Hurstbourne, 1325 Hurstbourne Parkway, Louisville, Ky.