Steve Schultz bolts to the Ohio River Bridges Project from the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority yesterday.
Today, the Feds announce they’ve approved (another) environmental review and Record of Decision.
Which is how things are done in government these days – just one happy coincidence after another!
This time, the announcement from the Federal Highway Administration is important because it frees up millions in federal funding to start the actual initial construction process of the East End bridge, at least.
Insiders tell Insider Louisville there will be a symbolic ground breaking this fall. (Of course, there was a groundbreaking for Museum Plaza and, well, we know how that went.)
As we pointed out yesterday, there are all sorts of complications still to be resolved, including suits by River Fields, the preservation group that supports quaint bridges in affluent areas, but not utilitarian bridges in affluent areas, and the willingness of the rest of the Commonwealth to back an expensive project that benefits Louisville.
Oh, and this one, teeny-weeny little detail the Washington Post included at the very end of their story: Still pending, however, is federal approval for tolling to help pay for the construction.
Finally, there’s the matter of the purchase of the Drumunard Estate, which has the attention of Kentucky officials … at last.
The latest environmental impact study was required after Kentucky and Indiana officials changed the plan last year, supposedly cutting the cost by 35 percent to $2.6 billion from $4.1 billion.
Oddly, Congressman John Yarmuth scooped the feds with his own announcement at 10:33 a.m.:
“With the conclusion of the federal environmental review and approval of the Record of Decision, everything is on track to begin construction on the Bridges Project later this year,” Yarmuth said. “Throughout this process, I have asked federal officials to expedite approval of the Bridges Project, and we are seeing the results of that today.”
From the federal release, which came at 11:25 a.m.:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has cleared the way for Kentucky and Indiana to move forward with the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project by approving its environmental review, FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez announced today. The announcement is a major step toward construction scheduled to begin later this year.
“This final step in the environmental review process allows Kentucky and Indiana to begin the process of improving safety and easing congestion for thousands of people who travel across the Ohio River every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This project will put people to work and help improve our infrastructure – a win-win for these two states.”
Working together, Kentucky and Indiana will build a new I-65 bridge over the Ohio River, reconstruct the I-64/I-65/I-71 Kennedy Interchange and build a new SR-265 East End facility that includes a new bridge over the Ohio River and a tunnel connecting to the I-265 Gene Snyder Freeway. When completed, these improvements will significantly improve traffic safety and reduce congestion between southern Indiana and Louisville.
State officials estimate the six-year project – one of the largest in the nation – will support more than 4,000 construction, engineering and supply-related jobs.
In 2003, the FHWA approved a Record of Decision (ROD) calling for two new bridges and a reconfiguration of the Kennedy Interchange in Louisville.
In the years since, design changes led by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer reduced the project’s estimated cost from $4.1 billion to $2.6 billion – a savings of more than 35 percent. Their modifications to the project’s design required a revision to the original ROD, which is what FHWA officials signed today.
“This project will create jobs in the short term and set the stage for continued economic growth for years to come,” said Administrator Mendez.
The downtown Louisville portion, overseen by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, will increase I-65 capacity from eight to 12 lanes, build a new bridge with approaches and reconstruct the Kennedy Interchange where I-64, I-65 and I-71 converge.
The Indiana Department of Transportation will oversee construction of the East End Crossing, spanning the river between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind.