NEW ALBANY — Modeled after a measure passed last week in Jeffersonville, New Albany City Councilman John Gonder will introduce a resolution Thursday that recommends the construction of an east-end bridge and the denial of tolling as a means to pay for the span.
Since the city doesn’t have a vote on the Ohio River Bridges Project, the resolution is non binding and more of a symbolic proposal than an authoritative piece of legislation.
Still, Gonder said it’s important to “stand in solidarity” with the Jeffersonville City Council, which passed a nearly identical resolution May 7.
“We are the ones on the Indiana side that are going to be damaged by the tolling,” Gonder said.
The resolution calls for the construction of a downtown bridge to be delayed until other funding or financing options beyond tolling are presented. But in the interim, the measure urges the Federal Highway Administration to deny tolling on Interstate 65 and any existing bridges or intestates, and for the east-end bridge to be built.
Gonder said there’s “a pretty decent consensus among some quarters at least, that if we build the east end bridge, that we don’t need the downtown bridge.”
He added Indiana has funding in place for an east-end bridge.
The resolution differs from the Jeffersonville measure in that it suggests that if the bridges project is approved with tolling, that sound barriers be installed along Interstate 64 and I-265 in New Albany.
The reason being is that the Sherman Minton Bridge is unlikely to be tolled for at least the initial phase of the project, which includes the addition of the downtown and east-end bridges as well as the reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction, Gonder said. Thus, more traffic would likely be diverted on the Indiana side to New Albany as motorists would look to avoid tolls required to cross the Ohio River in Clark County, he continued.
Such a pattern would have a “negative impact on traffic flow throughout the city,” Gonder said. He added the sound barriers would be needed to restrict noise pollution in the city due to the additional traffic.
Sound barriers are expensive and would no doubt add to the estimated $2.6 billion bridges project total, Gonder conceded. But he said it would be “absolutely critical that those go into place” if tolling is approved.
Frequent commuters would pay a $1 fee each time they cross a toll bridge over the Ohio River under the plan currently being considered.
With so many positives including a growing downtown business district and upcoming Bicentennial celebrations on the horizon, Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede is skeptical that amount will cause major repercussions for New Albany.
“I don’t think $1 is going to keep people from Kentucky from coming over here,” he said.
And having more bridges will decrease commute times even if there’s a small price to pay to travel across them, Zurschmiede continued.
He added he’s against tolling, but if that’s what the officials in charge of the project determine is needed to build the bridges, then the reality is the fees will have to be implemented to improve transportation in the region.
“It’s one of those things that I’m not sure the council should be addressing, but if Mr. Gonder thinks we should, I’m willing to consider it,” Zurschmiede said.
While the Jeffersonville council was the latest municipal body to take a stance on the bridges project, it wasn’t the first. In August of 2010, the New Albany council became the first Southern Indiana municipal body to approve a resolution opposing the bridges project as planned.
The measure was passed by a 6-2 vote, as Zurschmiede and Councilman Bob Caesar voted against the non binding resolution. Current Council President Diane McCartin-Benedetti abstained from the vote, as the resolution cited tolling as a hardship on Hoosier residents.
The resolution to be considered Thursday is different because it specifically refers to the construction of the east-end bridge and the delay of building a downtown bridge.