News and Tribune

March 25, 2014

Southern Indiana officials question Ohio River Bridges Project impact study

Tourism board members fear methodology used in impact study is flawed

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The numbers may have changed, but opponents of tolls still see the Ohio River Bridges Project as a negative for Southern Indiana.

The Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation invited the public to comment on a new economic impact study relating to the Ohio River Bridges Project at a public hearing Tuesday at the Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel in Jeffersonville.

The new study, which is a revision of a study released in 2012, relies on a travel model that has been updated to reflect a post-recession economic forecast, said Michael Rodriguez with Boston-based Economic Development Research Corp., the company the authority contracted to conduct the study.

The study predicts that the new bridges set to be completed in 2016 will generate a net business output of $86.7 billion over a 30-year period between 2012 and 2042, with a negative impact from tolls of $6.35 billion over that same period. Rodriguez said that the positive impact would increase at least as much as the predicted negative toll impact if tolls weren’t a factor.

“It’s not perfectly linear,” Rodriguez said. “It would probably have other impacts.”

The negative impact on Southern Indiana is understated in the impact study, said Mike Kapfhammer, a local businessman and member of the board of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention & Tourism Bureau.

“The negative impact wasn’t addressed at all,” Kapfhammer said.

Kapfhammer said that while he agrees with the construction of the new east-end crossing, the downtown crossing component of the project will hurt retail corridors in Clarksville and Jeffersonville.

“[Louisville residents] don’t need anything that we do,” Kapfhammer said. “They don’t need us at all.”

Vehicles without transponders will pay $12 per round trip from Kentucky to Louisville, Kapfhammer argued, as the trip would cost a toll of $4 in each direction plus a $4 service charge for the processing of the toll.

An INDOT spokesman at the public hearing wasn’t able to confirm or deny that a service fee would be charged to vehicles without transponders.

Kapfhammer wasn’t the only one to question the study’s methodology. Clarksville Town Councilman Paul Fetter called the study’s proposed method of mitigating the impact of the tolls in Jeffersonville and Clarksville by relying upon the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges “moronic.”

“There are many things that aren’t looked at in the study,” Fetter said.

Tourism bureau Executive Director Jim Epperson took issue with conclusions in the study relating to the impact of tolls on the businesses in downtown Jeffersonville. According to the study, the impact of tolls would be largely negative in the months immediately following the opening of the bridges and implementation of tolls, but businesses would see sales pick up as people accepted them.

“These conclusions were made without consumer data input,” Epperson argued. “A proper economic impact analysis of impacts on retail, entertainment and dining would require a review of existing commerce patterns, historical patterns, cross-border cultural factors and a regional survey of consumer attitudes about tolls and how individuals will plan behavior changes based on real toll levels.”

State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, said there’s much to be done before the final economic impact of the bridges project, including tolls, will be truly known.

“There’s a whole lot of work to be done on this still,” Grooms said.

Grooms encouraged the IFA to continue to monitor the true impact of tolling on the individuals that will be traveling on the bridges, especially the Downtown Crossing.