The Federal Highway Administration approved the bi-state authority’s record of decision for the Ohio River Bridges Project Wednesday, while Kentucky officials say questions over tolls and a pending lawsuit will not stand in the way of construction.
“We got by the biggest hurdle today,” said Gary Valentine, project manager with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Valentine said he expects federal approval for the tolling plan in the next couple months and with Wednesday's record of decision approval, the state's can proceed with construction. Kentucky will be responsible for rebuilding Spaghetti Junction and a new northbound I-65 Bridge and Indiana will build an East End Bridge.
Both states have chosen separate paths for completing their portions of the project, but the $2.6 billion cost will be split evenly.
The issue of tolls has been controversial, but officials say it’s the only feasible way the project can be financed. Valentine said Wednesday's record of decision was a key step to securing tolls.
“They could not approve that until this was done. So this is a major hurdle we got by today. Now the tolling agreement will be next along with the major project financial plan. We don’t see those as hurdles,” he said.
Controversy also surrounds the planned approach to the East End Bridge. Kentucky has purchased property it deems historic along the route, with plans to put the highway in a tunnel underneath it. A lawsuit is pending to remove the property from the historic register and eliminate the need for a tunnel.
Mayor Greg Fischer said the plan is vindicated by the federal government's record of decision.
“They clearly feel that there’s no standing there as well. So in terms of how that’s going to be wrapped up, I don’t know, but that’s a strong statement from the federal government here today,” he said.
Kentucky is currently seeking a contractor to design and build its portion of the project, with construction likely beginning next year. Construction is expected to begin later this year on the East End Bridge.