News and Tribune

Clark County

April 26, 2012

Gilkey among leaders with tolling concerns

Ohio River Bridges Project among the topics of mayors’ luncheon

CLARKSVILLE — Before he addressed One Southern Indiana members on the topic, Clarksville Town Council President John Gilkey conceded his take on tolls for the Ohio River Bridges Project would likely keep him from being “the most popular person in the room.”

As an organization, the Clark and Floyd counties chamber of commerce group has endorsed utilizing tolls instead of tax increases to pay for the bridges project. But that didn’t inhibit Gilkey from asserting that tolls could create a barrier for Southern Indiana commerce.

“I have serious reservations about the impact of the tolls on local businesses,” Gilkey said Wednesday during 1si’s “Lunch with the Mayors” event at the Holiday Inn Lakeview in Clarksville.

While people may become accustomed to paying tolls after they have been implemented for several years, Gilkey said it could take a generation for that adaptation to occur.

“The impact I think is going to be profound in the short term,” he said.

Gilkey was joined by New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore and Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall at the luncheon.

Moore said the idea of tolling bridges in the area “scares me to death.”

But he added the bridges have to be built, and that his main problem with the current plan for the project is that Indiana would have to pay toward the reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction.

That portion of the project should be footed by Kentucky because it’s a separate issue than that of building bridges, Moore said.

“There’s a lot of positives that are going to come from these bridges,” he said. “There can be some negatives.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed a memorandum of agreement in March to finance the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.

Under the plan, frequent commuters would pay a $1 fee each time they cross a toll bridge over the Ohio River. Cars and Sports Utility Vehicles would be assessed a $2 rate per trip, with a $5 toll for smaller trucks and $10 for semi-trucks.

Though authorization has not been received from the Federal Highway Administration, the Kennedy Bridge would be tolled under the plan. The Sherman Minton Bridge and the Clark Memorial Bridge would not be tolled.

However, there’s an assumption made in the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that when the Sherman Minton is required to be replaced, it too would be tolled.

Though the Sherman Minton wouldn’t require an immediate fee for passage if the plan comes to fruition, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said more commuters would loop around Southern Indiana to use the bridge creating infrastructure stress.

“It’s going to have a negative impact on the city of New Albany,” Gahan said.

In a statement on its website, 1si confirms its support of the entire bridges project — which is the construction of two bridges and the reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction.

The organization states it supports “no increase in taxes, but fair tolls/user fees and variable pricing for frequent customers” to foot the project.

“It is imperative that our citizens understand the facts behind this support,” Matt Hall, vice president of economic development and interim CEO for 1si, said in the statement.

“Like it or not, we have no choice but to build the bridges now for safety reasons and to advance the quality of life and economy here.”

The mayors and town council president were invited to the forum to discuss their first months in office since taking over in January.

Moore touted his decision to scrap the idea of building a downtown canal and instead supporting the construction of a pipe to deal with Jeffersonville’s sanitary sewer overflows that he said will save more than $30 million.

Gahan promoted the start of construction for Grant Line Industrial Park West, as well as efforts by his administration to form a housing strategy as a way to better understand the needs and desires of New Albany residents.

Hall was the only incumbent in his position at the event, and he said going into his ninth year as Charlestown mayor, that the city is progressing in quality of life issues such as improving parks and installing new sidewalks.

Like Moore and Gilkey, Hall credited River Ridge Commerce Center — which was the financial sponsor of the 1si luncheon — for its economic development leadership in Clark County.

Amazon.com Inc. is building a distribution center at River Ridge that Moore said could bring as many as 2,000 jobs to the area.

Gilkey said the Clarksville Town Council has reorganized the town’s administration by making new hires to lead the police and street departments.

The town council also implemented a public comment segment during its meetings and is engaging in quarterly “listening sessions” with residents, Gilkey said.  

He added the town is considering ways to utilize a portion of the former Value City property along Eastern Boulevard for community gatherings, such as building a pavilion at the site so musical events could be held there.

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