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February 14, 2011

Bridges project to conduct additional environmental impact study

Supplement will not delay project, officials say

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A notice sent to the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet by the Federal Highway Administration is requiring that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement be conducted for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

But the supplemental impact statement won’t set the project back, according to transportation officials with INDOT. In fact, they asked for it.

“This federal notice is something we were aware of, something we asked for,” said INDOT Spokesman Will Wingfield.

The impact statement is a follow-up to proposed cuts to the project, which would reduce the overall cost by an estimated $500 million. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer — the appointing authorities for the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority — introduced the cost saving measures in early January.

According to the highway administration notice, changes to the original bridges proposal — which will be part of the impact statement and its potential environmental impact — include rebuilding Spaghetti Junction at its existing location rather than reconstructing it adjacent to its current location; reducing the east-end bridge, roadway and tunnel from six lanes to four lanes, with a possible option to add two lanes later if future traffic demand warrants; removing the proposed pedestrian and bike path from the design for the new northbound Interstate 65 bridge, because the same need will be met by completion of the Big Four Bridge; and using innovative financing sources, including collecting tolls.

“It’s something we’re excited about,” said Scott Stewart, director of strategy for INDOT. “This is exactly the next step we would take. [It will] keep us on track,” he said referring to the 2012 proposed groundbreaking date.

While the supplemental study will be undertaken because of the changes in the project, it will not reopen the 2003 Record-of-Decision, and the supplement will include an analysis of potential new environmental impacts attributed to the states’ plans to construct the bridges as tolled facilities and to make other cost saving changes, according to a press release from INDOT.

Paul Boone, INDOT project manager, said when tolling became part of the project the respective transportation agencies knew additional environmental work would be necessary. But the expectation is the impact study will show there will be fewer environmental issues with the changes made to the project.

The two states plan to present the draft impact statement to the highway administration by summer. A public comment period — with workshops to be held — will follow the federal review and then a final document.

The Bridges Authority, along with KYTC and INDOT are co-hosting an industry innovation forum Wednesday and Thursday to showcase the Bridges Project and explore creative approaches to project development.

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