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March 26, 2013

Could Indiana cash nix tolls?

Councilman pitches plan for Indiana to pay $560M of Kentucky’s bridges funding gap

CLARKSVILLE — To keep tolls off of the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, a business owner and Clarksville town councilman is proposing that Indiana pay for Kentucky’s gap in funding construction.

While a formal written plan has not been proposed, Paul Fetter, a leader of the No 2 Bridge Tolls group, is basing his idea on an economic impact study released by the Indiana Finance Authority in April that cited a $78 billion positive impact will result from the construction of the bridges project. He says Indiana should use a portion of the positive impact expected to pay for a $560 million shortfall on the Interstate 65 corridor — Kentucky’s portion of the bridges project.

This would mitigate a negative effect on some Jeffersonville and Clarksville businesses that would come from tolling, Fetter said.

While the study cited a $78 billion positive impact on the region overall from the construction of two new bridges and the reworking of Spaghetti Junction in Louisville, it did acknowledge that tolls are expected to negatively impact businesses along the Interstate 65 corridor by $5.58 billion over the same 30-year time period.

Indiana is responsible for financing and constructing the east-end portion of the bridges project, which includes building a new east-end bridge and its approaches, which will connect Interstate 265 in Utica to Prospect, Ky. Kentucky is responsible for financing and constructing a new downtown I-65 bridge, converting the Kennedy Bridge into a southbound span and reconstructing Spaghetti Junction.

“If the project is as good, and as great as it seems, why wouldn’t Indiana pay $560 million to avoid the negative impact [of tolls]?” Fetter asked. “Attracting Kentucky consumer dollars has always been an issue for Southern Indiana. It’s like trying to get them to go out of town.”

Fetter — who is also the owner of Clark County Auto Auction on 10th Street in Jeffersonville — along with several downtown Jeffersonville and Clarksville business owners have repeatedly said that tolling will substantially affect their businesses. Input from 29 businesses through interviews and 81 respondents through surveys in the affected area were collected as input for the study. Fetter has previously said his business will face an additional $100,000 annually in transportation costs with tolls and will face a $7 million to $10 million reduction in sales.

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