Bridge Authority passes updated financial plan with tolls

By Elizabeth Donatelli - bio | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tolls are getting closer to becoming a reality as part of the Ohio River Bridges Project. Thursday morning the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridge Authority voted unanimously and passed an updated financial plan that includes tolls.

"Tolls have been identified as being necessary to fill this funding gap," said Executive Director Steve Schultz during the meeting.

Tolls will cover about half of the cost of the $4.1 billion project.

"The Ohio River is one of this community's greatest assets," said Co-chairman Kerry Stemler. "What we cannot let it be is one of our greatest divides."

The master plan with a target start date of august 2012 will build two new bridges and fix spaghetti junction.

"User fees need to be apart of that and there's not enough revenue source that we can identify anywhere else to fill that gap," said Stemler.

Days before the vote the Authority had a public input and information session where people could fill out a survey and talk to authority members.

There were 250 respondents who were concerned about safety in Spaghetti Junction, favored only building the East End Bridge, or building it first. Some said build it with tolls if necessary.

"I mean we're paying a heavy toll now and these folks need jobs and these bridges represent a tremendous number of jobs," said Larry Hujo Staff Representative at Indiana Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters .

Others were against tolls.

"We want to see some action and the best way to see some action on this project is to divide it and build it in affordable phases," said Shawn Reilly co-founder of No 2 Bridge Tolls. "This all or nothing, go for broke approach is just not fiscally responsible for this community."

Reilly said his group will lobby Kentucky legislators to vote against the financial plan and to favor legislation that would prohibit tolls on existing roads.

"This authority was not given all the tools they needed to find a real solution and we're hoping that by blocking these tolls, they'll come up with a real solution to this problem," said Reilly.

Reilly said he has talked to a Louisville legislator about filing anti-toll legislation on existing infrastructure, but would not say who it was.

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