5/14/2012 9:57:00 AM Ohio River Bridges Project questioned by some local officials
Tolling by the numbers
Frequency of river crossing by vehicle users: • Every weekday: low-income 10 percent; non low-income 14 percent • Several times per week: low-income 26 percent; non low-income 24 percent • Several times per month: low-income 21 percent; non low-income 27 percent • Rarely or never: low-income 43 percent; non low-income 36 percent
River crossings by vehicle users
Frequency of river crossing by vehicle users: minority vs. non-minority • Every weekday: minority 21 percent; non-minority 13 percent • Several times per week: minority 36 percent; non-minority 22 percent • Several times per month: minority 15 percent; non-minority 27 percent • Rarely or never: minority 28 percent; non-minority 38 percent
More than two weeks after the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved, Hoosiers are lining up to voice their opposition to the plan.
The Federal Highway Administration approved the final supplemental impact statement on April 20, a major step for Indiana and Kentucky in securing a record-of-decision to build the Ohio River Bridges Project. The plan to construct an east-end bridge, downtown bridge and reconstruct Spaghetti Junction is expected to receive the federally approved record-of-decision in mid-June.
The $2.6 billion modified selected alternative project being pursued splits the cost between Kentucky and Indiana, with Indiana paying for the $1.3 billion east-end portion of the project. 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.
Hoosiers on the hook
In order to pursue the public-private-partnership Indiana has determined would be the best option to pay for the project, the state’s Finance Authority completed an economic impact study.
But the results of that study have caused local legislators to line up against the current bridges plan.
“After careful review of the recently released economic impact study on the Ohio River Bridges Project, I am still primarily concerned with the burden to Indiana taxpayers and worry that the proposed tolls will put undue financial strain on the people the project is designed to help,” said Indiana Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, in a statement released last week. “It is important to look at every option available to lessen the financial burden southeast Indiana residents will face, either with some type of individual tax credit or one for employers who are willing to pay employee tolls.”
He suggested that for Indiana residents working in Kentucky, there could be a tax credit or that local residents could buy an annual pass at a further reduced rate than the suggested $1 tolls.
“I feel like a slightly lower amount would be worthy of consideration,” Grooms said.
He offered that if a resident were to pay about $500 annually, that rate should drop by 20 to 25 percent.
But Grooms conceded the reason Indiana residents would pay more is because they would use the bridge more. He added that he believed the time in which to offer changes to the project has passed, but there may still be a chance to modify the financing plans, as they have yet to be finalized.
“I would hope that the Ohio River Bridge’s Authority ... perhaps they would look at this again,” he said. “I believe the financing plan ... is something that can continue to be re-evaluated.”
Both the Clarksville Town Council and the Jeffersonville City Council took their opposition a step further calling for bridge planners to construct the east-end bridge first. Each council passed a resolution at their respective meetings Monday night urging the Federal Highway Administration to expedite the building of the east-end bridge and deny tolling of the Interstate 65 downtown corridor of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
The resolutions called for “delaying construction of the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project until a means of constructing the downtown bridge without the need for tolls on Interstate 65, the Clark Memorial Bridge, Sherman Minton Bridge, the Interstate-64, I-65 and I-71 connectors and ‘Spaghetti Junction’ presents itself.”
The study, conducted by Boston-based Economic Development Research Group, reported tolls are expected to negatively impact employment by 1,578 jobs over the 30-year time period, negatively affect personal income by $2.2 billion over the 30-year time frame and negatively affect business output by $5.58 billion over the same period.
However, the study claimed the negative impact of tolling was outweighed by the benefits that completing the project will provide over the same time period, including adding an estimated 17,796 jobs, adding $27.3 billion in personal income and generating $78 billion in economic output for the region.
“The adverse impact of tolling can be seen as the ‘price paid’ for the positive impacts of the project,” according to the study.
Disparity of expense for minority and low-income populations
In addition to Hoosiers, another group was cited as being disproportionately affected by the bridges project and tolling.
“FHWA has concluded that the modified selected alternative is likely to cause a disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income populations,” according to the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. “Although the impacts would not be ‘predominantly borne’ by environmental justice populations, the impact would be appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude for these populations.”
Environmental justice populations were defined as low-income households, low-income neighborhoods and minority populations.
According to an Ohio River bridges users study, 36 percent of low-income populations and 57 percent of minority populations cross the Ohio River by car as heavy users, which includes every day or several times per week.
“It is an area of great concern,” said Jeffersonville NAACP President Antia Fields. “There are people that we know will not be able to afford those tolls no matter what they are.”
She added that a group representing local disadvantaged business enterprises has met with Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority Executive Director Steve Schultz. And while Fields said that tolls on the bridges will definitely have an impact on low-income and minority groups, the bridges authority is working with them to determine a solution.
The issue is also outlined in the final supplemental statement.
“Because members of the minority community appear to use the Ohio River bridges with greater frequency than non-minorities, it is necessary to determine whether the institution of tolling on the new Ohio River bridges will cause a disproportionately high and adverse effect on members of the minority community,” according to the final impact statement.
The annual cost of the tolls for an individual — based on a $2 round trip — would total $480 annually, according to the final impact statement. Based on the 2010 poverty threshold — for someone making less than $11,139 — paying for the tolls would cost them 4 percent of their annual income.
Compared to the 2010 per capita income for residents of Indiana and Kentucky, $24,058 and $22,515, respectively, the tolls would equal about 2 percent of their annual income, according to the report.
“The calculations demonstrate that in general, and as one would expect, a low-income person who uses the bridges for a daily commute would have more of their annual income used for tolls than non low-income populations using the bridges,” according to the final impact statement. “However, in considering this data it is important to note that, according to the survey results described above, only 10 percent of low-income vehicle users reported that they currently use the Ohio River crossings on a daily basis. Therefore, a relatively small percentage of low-income users would experience the cost of daily bridge tolls.”
Regardless of income level, the final impact statement reported that minority populations used the bridges more often than non-minority segments. The final impact statement showed that 57 percent of minority populations were heavy users of the bridge — at least several times per week — and 70 percent of the minority users who frequently use the bridge reside in Jefferson County.
To help mitigate the impact on low-income and minority populations, transportation planners from Indiana and Kentucky, as well as from the Federal Highway Administration, will look to implement enhanced bus service through the Transit Authority of River City that includes funding for new vehicles, additional park-and-ride facilities and extended routes and stops. In addition to enhanced bus service, the states will develop a process for adopting an overall tolling policy that will be sensitive and responsive to the environmental justice populations, according to the final impact statement.
Fields said those discussions are ongoing.
Possible solutions she offered included offering a pass or a different rate structure for low-income individuals. She added she will work to make sure that economically disadvantaged people have the ability to cross the river to work and to see their families.
“I think it is definitely a concern,” she said. “We want to take all citizens into consideration.”
Despite the disproportionate effect cited, it was determined that low-income or minority populations would not be paying the bulk of the tolls.
“FHWA has determined that neither the cost of tolls, nor other direct or indirect impacts, would be ‘predominantly borne’ by environmental justice populations, because the cost of tolls associated with the modified selected alternative would be borne by all cross-river travelers in the Louisville metro planning area,” according to the final impact statement.