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December 2, 2012

Tolls remain a sticking point at bridges meeting

Comments collected before contract is awarded for east-end bridge

JEFFERSONVILLE — Another public forum was held Saturday on the Ohio River Bridges Project, and tolls were again the big issue for people with concerns about the plan to build two new bridges connecting Kentucky and Indiana.

The public hearing was part of the process to finalize a contract with WVB East End Partners a collaboration of several entities and companies — which was chosen as the preliminary winner for Indiana’s portion of the bridges project. The contractor team will design, construction and finance a new east-end bridge and its approaches that will connect Interstate 265 in Prospect, Ky. to Utica.

Paul Fetter, Clarksville town councilman and organizer of No 2 Bridge tolls — a group opposing the tolling of the Interstate 65 corridor — said he and the town fully support the plan to construct and toll the east-end bridge. However, he added that he, and the town council, still oppose the idea of tolling Interstate 65 downtown.

“The downtown portion, unlike the east-end, creates no new jobs nor economic development,” he said. “It does exactly the opposite.”

Fetter cited an economic impact study conducted by the Indiana Finance Authority as part of the process to enter into a public-private partnership to finance the bridge’s construction and the negative impact tolling will have on Clark and Floyd counties.

“It is the IFA’s responsibility in doing this study to advise Indiana of the severe economic consequences,” he said. “It is also Indiana’s responsibility to its communities that will be damaged by these consequences to remedy these. Indiana must do what’s necessary not to allow its own communities to be harmed by this project.”

The study conducted by Boston-based Economic Development Research Group in about seven weeks interviewed 29 “key individuals” and included an online business survey from 81 respondents.

The study returned that the Ohio River Bridges Project would add 18,000 jobs annually, result in $27.3 billion in personal income and $78 billion in economic output for the region. It also said that tolling would negatively impact employment by 1,578 jobs, negatively affect personal income by $2.2 billion and negatively affect business output by $5.58 billion over 30 years.

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