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4/6/2012 9:51:00 AM
Ogle Foundation study shows mixed support for Ohio River Bridges Project

Braden Lammers, News and Tribune

JEFFERSONVILLE — A study commissioned by the Paul Ogle Foundation Inc. was released Thursday that showed mixed support for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

The $2.6 billion plan to construct an east-end bridge, a downtown bridge and reconstThe study showed that Indiana commuters will use the bridges about four times as often as Kentuckians and will also pay a greater portion of the proposed tolls.ruct Spaghetti Junction has been split between Kentucky and Indiana, through an agreement between the states’ governors. Each state is responsible for about half of the project’s costs and both states have offered that funding gaps to construct the bridges will be covered through tolls.

Ogle Foundation Executive Director Kent Lanum said the cross-river commuting study — conducted by Thoroughbred Research Group — based on 2010 Census Data, showed two-thirds of the commuters crossing the river every day are coming from Indiana.

“Over 35,000 [Indiana] residents every day cross the bridges, while 12,500 Kentucky residents were crossing over into Indiana,” Kent Lanum said. “It also appears the primary source of tolls from commuters will likely be from residents of Clark and Scott counties in Indiana, working in Kentucky, and Kentucky residents that work in Clark and Scott counties. Assuming a $1 toll each way, it was estimated in the study that Indiana commuters will pay $8.6 million in tolls and Kentucky commuters will pay $3.6 million in tolls per year.”

Why the study was conducted

Despite the glut of information that has been offered by the Ohio River Bridges Project over the past two years, only 47 percent of those in the survey said they were well informed on the project.

Providing more information was the reason the Ogle Foundation said they wanted to commission the study.

“The Ogle Foundation Board has always been in favor of building the bridges to improve the flow of traffic in and around the region,” Kent Lanum said. “Even more important, our board believes that it is vital to the economic growth on both sides of the river.”

He added that the foundation is not opposed to tolling, but the group’s board felt that there was an informational gap regarding the funding and providing the community the means to get their own input on the project. So, the foundation decided to conduct their own study.

“Our intent was not to set policy or delay the project any further,” Kent Lanum said. “Our intent is to provide important data that can be used to assist those in making final decisions on this project that will result in a fair and equitable solution and the funding plan for this project on both sides of the river.”

The discussions around conducting the type of study offered to the public Thursday were not new.

“This has been in the works for almost two years,” said Board Chairman for the Ogle Foundation Robert Lanum. He was also a member of the Ohio River Bridges Coalition, but said he resigned so there was no appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.

He said the Ogle Foundation had been working with the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority to conduct a similar study, which the Ogle Foundation had offered to pay for.

“[Several] members of the authority thought it was a great idea, we worked for two months on the questions and answers, it was submitted to the state of Indiana and they decided they could not control the result, so they killed the project,” Robert Lanum said. “We think this is an important and integral part of the bridges support and we thought it should have been done.”

The Ogle Foundation started working on the study in February, with the interviews conducted in March, when no other governmental agency was going to do the study.

“We thought it was something that the public needed,” Robert Lanum said.

He added that the Bridges Coalition did not offer to commission a study, likely because of the cost and because the Indiana Department of Transportation was planning to conduct their own economic impact study.

Indiana’s plan in the works

As part of the financing plan that Indiana has decided to pursue — a public-private partnership — state law requires that an economic impact study be conducted.

The state commissioned Boston-based Economic Development Research Group to complete the study, which has yet to be returned to the state.

Robert Lanum said INDOT decided against accepting the Ogle Foundation’s offer to conduct the economic impact study in lieu of a study that is a part of the financing plan. He added that he does not believe that study is adequate.

“The economic impact study that we proposed last year was meant to be region-wide,” Kent Lanum said. “We believe the economic impact will be great for Southern Indiana, but for Bullitt County, too. We just wanted numbers.”

Indiana Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, said he expects the state’s study to be returned anytime.

A copy of the study released Thursday was also provided to him, and he said he didn’t know the number of Hoosiers using the bridge was so disproportional.

“That number kind of stood out as a surprise to me,” Grooms said.

Although Indiana residents only make up about 20 percent of the adult population in the metro area, they account for nearly half — 47 percent — of the weekly cross river traffic, according to the study. Residents from Clark and Floyd counties alone made up 39 percent of those trips. And compared to Louisville residents, Clark and Floyd County residents averaged five trips per week across the bridges, while Jefferson County residents averaged 1.23 trips per week.

With the disparity of who is using the bridge, Grooms offered that he would be in favor of going back and looking at the cost to reconfigure Spaghetti Junction, having Kentucky incur that cost, and then split the remaining cost of the bridges project between the two states.

“Let that be a Kentucky project since most of the people using that are from Kentucky,” he said. “I think it’s something that is worthy of consideration.”

Grooms added there will still be untolled options for commuters and questioned the fairness of those using the bridge the most not paying the majority of the user fees.

The results

The survey consisted of 875 adults, augmented with a boosted sample of frequent cross-bridge commuters. Frequent commuters were defined as anyone who travels across the bridges, round-trip, four or more times during a typical week. The survey included four counties in Indiana — Clark, Floyd, Harrison and Washington — and nine counties in Kentucky — Bullitt, Henry, Jefferson, Meade, Nelson, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer and Trimble counties.

According to the survey conducted, two-thirds of area residents favor the concept of building new bridges across the Ohio River in general, regardless of whether or not they agree with the specifics of the current plan. And most believe the bridges will have a positive economic impact on the region.

However, for those surveyed, an even higher level of support was offered for the construction of an east-end bridge, with nearly 70 percent in favor of its construction, 47 percent favored a new downtown bridge and 58 percent were in favor of reconstructing Spaghetti Junction.

About half of the area’s residents are in favor of tolls to fund the project, but among residents of Clark and Floyd counties the concept was offered less support at about 36 percent. While many support the concept of tolling the new bridges, residents strongly believe that existing structures such as the Interstate 64 Sherman Minton Bridge, 1-65 Kennedy Bridge and the Clark Memorial Bridge should remain free of tolls, according to the study. Likewise, there is little support for tolling users of the reconfigured Spaghetti Junction who do not access one of the new bridges.

Tolls did affect how often the respondents said they would cross the bridges and with no tolls in place, 14 percent of those surveyed said they would cross the river more often, but with tolls 26 percent said they would use the bridges less.

On the east-end portion of the project — the section of the plan Indiana is slated to construct — even the residents of eastern Jefferson County were in favor, at more than 70 percent, to link Interstate 265 between Kentucky and Indiana.

Another controversial issue on the east-end has been the construction of a 2,000-foot, $255 million tunnel under the 50-acre historic Drumanard Estate. Of those surveyed 61 percent were in favor of removing the Drumanard property from the National Register of Historic Places, while 24 percent were in favor of maintaining the property, and the remainder were either undecided or against building an east-end bridge.

Respondents to the survey were also generally dissatisfied with the leadership that has been provided to complete the Ohio River Bridges Project with 40 percent dissatisfied or very dissatisfied and only 27 percent pleased with the job of their leadership.

Related Stories:
• Evansville firm among five contracting teams bid for Ohio River Bridges Project
• Kentucky Transportation Cabinet buys Drumanard Property for $8.3 million
• Indiana Finance Authority: Six teams interested in Ohio River Bridges Project
• Study: Ohio River Bridges Project to bring 18,000 jobs annually to region
• Ohio River Bridges Project takes another step forward
• Clark County residents call to stop downtown bridge construction and tolls

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