LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority met Oct. 7 to discuss several options to pay for the $4.1 billion Ohio Bridges Project. The project is for two new bridges - one in the east end and one downtown, and reconstructing Spaghetti Junction.
The Bridges Authority, which has set a Dec. 31 deadline to create a financial plan for the project, has discussed putting tolls on only three bridges - the existing Kennedy, the new I-65, and the new east end bridge. Right now, the Clark Memorial (Second Street) and the Sherman Minton bridges would remain toll free. But Kerry Stemler, co-chair of the Bridges Authority, said they are not ruling anything out at this point.
During the meeting, several members praised the progress of the Ohio Bridges Project. While people with the group Say No to Tolls want to yield any progress concerning tolls.
"We come to these meetings hoping to get some information. In essence, they put on this little dog and pony show and no real information comes out," said Shawn Reilly, co-chair of Say No to Tolls, who is not satisfied with the discussions. "They say all options are on the table and when they say that ... they mean all tolling options are on the table."
Stemler does not deny tolls will be part of the plan, but at this time, the Bridges Authority has not ironed out what the cost would be for drivers crossing the Ohio River.
"What I can tell you it's not $3.00," Stemler said, "and it never was going to be."
The Bridges Authority has said at least half of the project will be paid for by using state and federal dollars. WAVE 3 has been told the Bridges Authority is hoping that the more they get out of federal and state dollars, the less they will rely on tolls.
Several options were discussed during the meeting about how to pay for the project. Those options include a low interest loan and a grant -both of which the Bridges Authority has applied for. Another option is to look at public-private partnerships or something called Tax Increment Financing, which the Authority said would mean taxing surrounding businesses. Stemler believes it will be a combination of options.
"None of those that we discussed tonight are a direction we are necessarily going. All he was doing was laying out tonight some of the opportunities we're looking at," Stemler said.
One option that Reilly said the Bridges Authority is not looking at is what he calls "pay as you go." Basically, use the money you have available to pay what you can afford to build and go from there. His vision is toll free and he wants the Authority to listen.
"We need to have a say in this as much as they do," Reilly said.
Usually there is a public comment section during the meeting, but that was canceled for this meeting. We're told in a previous meeting, the Authority decided to set two dates to listen to the public and have learned the Authority will announce those dates as early as next week.