LOUISVILLE — The Ohio River Bridges project on Friday moved forward another step when an environmental impact statement received federal approval.
The approval of the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement allows transportation planners to move ahead in approving the final record-ofdecision for the bridges project. However, the next step in the process will be to submit the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for publication in the Federal Register.
Once the decision is published in the register, the public will get to review the document written comments for 30 days, said Indiana Department of Transportation Spokesman Will Wingfield.
The final sign-off will come with federal approval of a revised recordof-decision, which Indiana and Kentucky expect to receive in mid-June, according to an Ohio River Bridges Project press release. Federal approval of a record-of-decision for the project allows Indiana and Kentucky to invest federal funds in the selected alternative for the project.
The selected alternative was one of three options for the project. The first was to construct the project based on the 2003 record-of-decision, the second was a modified version of the project, which included the reduction of lanes and reconstructing Spaghetti Junction in its current location and the third option was a no-build alternative.
The modified, or preferred alternative, was chosen as the option to pursue by transportation planners, after a request was made by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to cut the cost of the proposed $4.1 billion project. While the project will still consist of building an eastend bridge, a downtown bridge and the reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction, the changes made reduced it to a $2.6 billion project.
Kentucky, which is responsible for financing the $1.3 billion downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, has planned to pay for its portion through traditional state transportation funding.
Beshear said he has built into the state’s transportation budget $50 million per year over six years through traditional funding sources. In addition, the state has approved the sale of $236 million of GARVEE bonds, leaving a $764 million shortfall that will be covered in tolling revenues.
While Indiana has decided to pursue a public-private-partnership to construct its portion of the bridges project, it has not ruled out using federal funds to mitigate the costs. Indiana is responsible for financing, construction and maintenance of the eastend portion of the project, which is expected to cost just shy of $1.3 billion.
The state will pay for the project through a combination of money dedicated through Indiana’s Department of Transportation, received in part from Major Moves — the lease of the Northern Indiana Toll Road. The money dedicated was set at $54 million a year, for eight years, totaling $432 million, with the remainder of $868 million to be covered through tolls.
The states are still discussing with the Federal Highway Administration the mechanism for tolling the project, Wingfield said.
Along with the amount of time that had passed since the 2003 record-of-decision was approved, the changes in the project prompted the need to conduct a new environmental impact study.
Jose Sepulveda, Kentucky division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, signed the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement for the “modified” project Friday.
“Approval of the new environmental document by [the highway administration] is a welcome development,” said Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock in the release. “It means we are very close to securing a revised record-of-decision, which is one of the last steps toward federal approval for this critical project.”
Federal record-of-decision approval will be required in order to allow contractors to develop plans and ultimately begin construction on the project.
“The [environmental impact statement] is the culmination of detailed studies and extensive public involvement, which has been the hallmark of the Ohio River Bridges Project,” said INDOT Commissioner Michael Cline. “Under the leadership and historic partnership of our governors, both states have worked tirelessly over the past 14 months to find the best way to make this long-awaited project a reality.”
Transportation planners from both states have said they expect construction to begin before the end of the year.