Tolling will happen, steel tariffs will hurt in funding I-69 ORX

Tolling will happen, steel tariffs will hurt in funding I-69 ORX

INDIANA AND KENTUCKY (WFIE) - We're learning there will be tolling on the new I-69 Bridge. The Ohio River Crossing team's lead engineer consultant, Brian Aldridge, gave the update at a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting Thursday.

During Aldridge's presentation, it was discussed that two of the three options in "West Alternative 1" and "Central Alternative 1" may require additional tolling revenue from Highway 41.

Project officials say tolling alone wouldn't be enough to pay for the project. It's going to take multiple funding sources including federal and money from both states.

Aldridge also mentioned they haven't determined toll rates yet, but pinpointed Louisville's new east end bridge, using the RiverLink model as a close example of what modern tolling here could look like.

"We don't have those details yet, and we're not going to have those details until such time that a bi-state authority establishes and sets a business plan, and the actual tolling policies that we use for the project," Aldridge said.

Republican Vanderburgh County Commissioner Bruce Ungethiem questioned Aldridge at the podium, asking him if project officials have considered tolling other regional bridges to help with funding.

"Does anybody looking at this, understand that that's appropriate," Ungethiem continued, "that certain bridges will be tolled, and certain bridges won't be tolled?"

Aldridge answered, "again, in terms of this project, we're just trying to find the best way to pay for this project."

Ungetheim then said, "I don't think that will be fair to everybody."

Aldridge noted the estimated costs of all three alternate options, saying construction inflation is added on and increasing annually at least by 4%.

So, over the next 35 years with maintenance costs included and inflation, the West Alt. 1 route will total $1.8 billion; West Alt. 2 $1.6 billion; Central Alt 1 $1.4 billion.

Now, you have tariffs on steel to consider. As steel prices rise 10%, that would tack on a fat $150 million to a $1.5 billion price tag, for example.

"Steel is only one component of project costs," said Project Spokesperson, Mindy Peterson. An increase in prices wouldn't add that percentage to the bottom line. It's important to note that we are still years away from construction, and it's early to speculate on the cost of materials.  The Project Team does monitor cost trends – whether talking about steel, fuel, cement, etc," Peterson clarified.

"There are ten or 11 bridges that go across the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky," Ungethiem said, "and if we're going to toll one of the bridges, we should take a look at all of the bridges and see if we should toll every other bridge, or certain bridges in each section, so everybody shares in the cost of putting a bridge between Indiana and Kentucky, regardless of where it's at."

The I-69 ORX project is a long process, so what's next?

Project officials say sometime this Fall we can expect the Bi-State Authority to narrow the three crossing options down to one. After that, there are even more public hearings to follow for your input.

We'll keep you updated.

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