HENDERSON, Ky. -- The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) have identified the Central Alternative as the preferred route for the proposed I-69 Ohio River Crossing (I-69 ORX).
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released Friday, Dec. 14, identifying preferred alternatives with different tolling options. Central Alternative 1A would toll both the I-69 bridge and the remaining US 41 bridge. Central Alternative 1B would toll only the I-69 bridge.
The tolling options are the only difference between Central Alternative 1A and Central Alternative 1B. Both include a new 4-lane I-69 bridge and retain one US 41 bridge for local traffic. Both include 11.2 miles of new interstate, including the construction of 8.4 miles of I-69 on new location and upgrades to 2.8 miles of existing US 41 to meet interstate standards. New interchanges would be added at existing I-69 in Indiana, US 60 in Kentucky and at existing US 41 south of Henderson between Van Wyk Road and Kimsey Lane.
“There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding this decision,” said Janelle Lemon, INDOT project manager. “The Project Team has been collecting data, conducting field work and gathering feedback since early 2017. The analysis has helped the states make an informed decision and identify the preferred route for I-69 and location of the new Ohio River bridge.”
Of the alternatives considered, Central Alternatives 1A and 1B have the fewest residential relocations (four relocations) and no commercial relocations. They also have the fewest impacts to sensitive resources including wetlands, floodways, streams and managed lands.
By retaining one US 41 bridge, Central Alternatives 1A and 1B provide cross-river redundancy for the region, something that was mentioned frequently as being important at open houses, meetings and other forums. Because of its historic significance, the US 41 northbound bridge will be retained for two-way traffic.
Traffic forecasts indicate six lanes of cross-river capacity are needed through 2045. Providing more than six lanes of cross-river traffic would unnecessarily add to long-term operations and maintenance costs. Removing one US 41 bridge from service saves $145 million in long-term costs. Although it would be striped for four lanes initially, a new I-69 bridge will be wide enough to accommodate six lanes in the future, if needed.
If federal grants and traditional funding can be made available to fill the gap between the project’s costs and the financial capacity of the toll revenue, then construction could begin in late 2021 and a new bridge could be open to traffic as soon as 2025.
Financing and Funding
With a total cost estimated at $1.497 billion (year-of-expenditure dollars), Central Alternative 1A or 1B is the lowest-cost option. This total cost includes roadway and bridge operations and maintenance for 35 years following completion of construction.
A preliminary financial plan will be developed based on the total cost of the project. Financial estimates indicate net revenue from tolling both the I-69 and US 41 bridges (Central Alternative 1A) would providing financing capacity of $500 million or 40 percent of upfront capital costs. Tolling only the I-69 bridge (Central Alternative 1B) would provide financing capacity of $250 million or about 20 percent of upfront capital costs. At this time, the only source for funding the gap is from the states’ traditional programs through direct funding and/or other financing.
The decision on whether to recommend Central Alternative 1A or Central Alternative 1B (whether or not to toll the US 41 bridge) will be based on continuing financial analysis, federal grant availability and comments received on the DEIS. Once a decision is reached, the public and agencies will be notified prior to publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD).
Tolling will be all-electronic tolling with no slowing and no stopping. Toll rates similar to the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville were used by the Project Team for the purpose of analysis. Initial toll rates were $2 for a passenger vehicle with a prepaid account and transponder.
The DEIS includes possible strategies to mitigate impacts on Environmental Justice (low-income or minority) populations if both the I-69 and US 41 bridges are tolled. These include the option of transponder purchase via cash, cash-loading of transponders, widespread availability of transponders, a frequent-user/ commuter card and a reduced toll rate on the US 41 bridge for verified low-income users.
A bi-state body will be created to develop toll policy (including toll rates) before construction begins. The FEIS and ROD will inform the bi-state body of impacts and commitments associated with the implementation of tolls.
DEIS and Public Comment
In addition to the website, the DEIS is available for review at several locations on both sides of the river:
Public and agency comments on the DEIS will be accepted through Feb. 8, 2019. Comments must be received by participation in public hearings, through the “Contact Us” page on the project website, by email (info@I69ohiorivercrossing.com), by mail or in person at an I-69 ORX project office.
During the comment period, the Henderson office will be staffed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the Evansville office will be staffed Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Offices will be closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 1.
“Public feedback is an important part of this process,” said Marshall Carrier, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet project manager. “We want to hear what residents have to say and receive feedback from a variety of agencies. All comments will be documented and considered by the Project Team before the FEIS and ROD.”
Public hearings are scheduled on both sides of the river and will include a formal comment period (unlike earlier open houses). The hearings are scheduled for January:
Henderson Open HouseMonday, Jan. 7, 5 to 8 p.m.Henderson Community College, Preston Arts Center2660 S. Green St.
Evansville Open House Tuesday, Jan. 8, 5 to 8 p.m.Old National Events Plaza, Locust meeting rooms715 Locust St.
The Project Team will present information about the project at 6 p.m. A formal comment session will follow. Attendees will sign up to speak at the public comment session and all comments will be recorded. People may also submit written comments.
After considering all comments, the states will confirm the preferred alternative in the FEIS. Final approval of the preferred alternative will come from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) through the issuance of a Record of Decision. The ROD is expected in late 2019.