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Indiana, Kentucky Seek Funds For Bridge To Connect I-69

A barge moves across the Ohio River near Evansville. Right now, there is no bridge to connect Interstate 69 from Kentucky to Indiana.

Officials in Kentucky and Indiana announced this week a new collaboration to help secure funding for a bridge that would connect the sections of Interstate 69 in Indiana and Kentucky.

The collaboration, called Bridge Link, aims to lobby leaders in Washington and in-state capitols for funding, with the goal of completing the bridge in eight years.

Construction of I-69 is continuing in Indiana, although not at quite the pace it was under Governor Mitch Daniels.

The road is supposed to connect Michigan to Texas through eight states. Right now, it exists in pieces; only three states are actively working on building the road.

The 27-mile stretch, from Crane Naval Center to just south of Bloomington, is expected to be complete by the end of next year.  Even then, I-69 will exist in two disconnected pieces in Indiana.

The road from Indianapolis north to Michigan opened in 1971. Governor Mitch Daniels celebrated the completion of the road from Evansville north to Crane about a year ago.

Like Indiana, Kentucky has been moving full speed ahead on I-69 construction. However, they are not paving a new interstate, only updating existing roads to interstate standards, which costs much less money.

The state has about 55 miles of the road finished.

Funding Options Include Toll Roads, State Contributions

But leaders there now face the same problem as many of the road advocates in southwestern Indiana.  A span across the Ohio River is estimated at $1.2 billion, and where that money is going to come from is a big question.

Rep. Larry Buschon, R-8th, who helped establish a bi-partisan congressional caucus last month, says it is unlikely funding for the project will come from the federal government.

“I think the days of the endless bucket of money in the government are gone, so we have to find ways to work together to get things that we all want, we’ve all got to put money in,” said Lee Lingo, president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce.

The pot of money Daniels used to fund I-69 construction is gone or committed. In Kentucky, the money Governor Beshear allocated in his six year transportation plan is only enough to cover improvements to the corridor – not to construct a new bridge.

Some plans have called for Kentucky to put in two-thirds of the money and Indiana to pitch in the remaining one-third.  Other ideas include public-private partnerships where investors would pay for some of the costs up front, or making the bridge a toll bridge.

Kentucky is accustomed to tolls. Three of its parkways were tolled, and once the construction bonds were paid off, the tolls were removed.

But it could be a tougher sell in Indiana, where then-Governor Mitch Daniels was forced to back off of the tolling option in the southwestern part of the state because it was so unpopular, even among road supporters.

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