In a financial estimate, the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority has suggested $3 one-way tolls to help pay for the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. According to the 12-page report, which was released to a regional transportation agency on Friday, charging drivers $3 each way would cover half of the cost for the behemoth public works project, which includes building an East End bridge, a downtown bridge and re-configuring Spaghetti Junction.
The report makes an assumption that the East End Bridge will be tolled when it opens in 2017, and the downtown bridge will be tolled when it opens in 2020. The report also suggest tolling the Kennedy Bridge along Interstate-65.
In the past few weeks, the debate over tolls has entangled the mayoral election, while the public waits on the official tolling amount from the bi-state authority.
In a recent interview on 84 WHAS radio, Democratic mayoral candidate Greg Fischer said that voters shouldn’t “burn a lot a mental calories,” over the tolling amount. However, in a statement sent to LEO Weekly, the Louisville businessman drew a line on tolls in light of the recent suggestion from the authority that could result in a $6 round-trip for area drivers.
“We need to build the bridges and to create the thousands of jobs that come with it — but a $3 toll is simply too much,” Fischer said in a news release.
The estimate is not an official financial plan, however. And the report warns that the amount, “should not be construed as the anticipated toll rate ultimately required to support,” the project. The authority has until the end of the year to submit a final financial plan, therefore the actual rates for the tolls could greatly differ from this suggestion.
Fischer didn’t indicate an appropriate tolling amount that he believes the authority should charge drivers to help pay for the bridges project. However, his opponents have made their positions clear before the reports release.
Last month, for instance, Republican mayoral candidate and Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, made waves, saying that scaling back the project should be an option if paying for it includes tolls exceeding $2. It’s a statement that intrigued many anti-tolling organizers, who hope to be a swing vote in the general election.
The Heiner campaign made it clear early on that while the east Louisville Republican supports the record of decision, he believes that does not include tolls.
Since announcing his candidacy last year, independent mayoral candidate Jackie Green said the juggernaut project should be shelved and the money would be better spent reinvesting in the city’s public transportation system.
“That’s going to change the dynamics of our community and it’s an obstacle placed between Louisville and Southern Indiana for commerce,” says Green. “A lot of people aren’t going to be able to afford a $6 round trip to get to work and that’s a chunk out of their paycheck. That’s a significant sum for them. And our local commuters are going to be paying for those bridges.”
The report speculates roughly $1.5 billion could come from traditional state and federal funding, including special monies such as stimulus funding that could pay for the other half of the project.
The Heiner campaign has issued the following statement:
“This afternoon the Louisville Southern Indiana Bridges Authority submitted a report to the regional planning agency with estimated tolls of $6 per trip. This would represent one of Louisville’s largest tax increases and I will not support this rate. While we realize this is a preliminary number, I urge the authority to work diligently to reduce this rate. If $6 per trip is the only way the authority can build 2 bridges, then I believe we need to reduce the scope of the project by breaking it into more manageable phases with the east end bridge being the first phase of a multi phase project. While I believe I-65 and Spaghetti Junction will ultimately have to be addressed, I find a $6 trip financially irresponsible and a burden Louisvillians will not accept.”