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April 20, 2013

Kentucky I-69 official: Ohio River bridge project ‘not affordable’

Project manager says tolls being based on Ohio River Bridges Project

HENDERSON, Ky. — While there is progress on building Interstate 69, there is a huge problem of bridging the Ohio River, Kentucky’s new I-69 project manager said Thursday.

“I wish I had a good word to say” about the proposed bridge, Gary Valentine of the state Transportation Cabinet told the breakfast meeting of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.

The latest cost estimate, which dates from 2008, is $1.4 billion for the Ohio River crossing and its related highway approaches. “Right now, it’s not an affordable project for us.

“To be honest, $1.4 billion is very challenging in these times,” said Valentine, adding that the gas tax doesn’t cover costs like it once did.

Kentucky’s six-year road plan, which guides all state highway construction, provides $1 million to study ways to make the bridge more affordable and Valentine said he thinks costs can be shaved, but a toll might be necessary.

The preferred corridor branches off from the Pennyrile Parkway south of Henderson “what I consider way early,” which will require the construction of about nine miles of new highway at a cost of about $10 million a mile. He said highway officials will look at branching off closer to Henderson.

“The only thing we can do is figure out a way to make it more affordable and then find a magic bullet to fund the thing,” Valentine said.

That would probably mean some type of toll bridge.

Valentine gave some ball-park estimates on what kind of toll prices motorists could expect on a new bridge, based on what is being proposed for the new bridges at Louisville. The rates being looked at there are $1 for a frequent user.

“In preliminary studies we defined a frequent user as someone who used the bridge 20 times a month in both directions.”

Nonfrequent users would pay $2, while the price would be $5 for “box-type trucks and commercial-type trucks” and $10 for tractor-trailer rigs.

Other than the bridge problem, Valentine said, the I-69 project in Kentucky is moving pretty well — as long as the General Assembly maintains funding.

“I have $155 million showing in the six-year plan [with] $70 million in this biennium. There will be several construction projects you’ll see on I-69 on both the Pennyrile and the Purchase parkways over the next two to three years. Those projects will allow I-69 to be under shield [interstate signs] from Mayfield to Henderson.”

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