The Courier-Journal | Charlie White, Louisville
In the course of 30 years, the Ohio River Bridges Project is expected to generate an average of 15,556 new jobs a year, $29.5 billion in personal income and $86.7 billion in economic output for the Louisville region, according to a new economic impact study.
The study, done for the Indiana Finance Authority by a Boston-based consulting firm, estimates the bridges will open up land for development — especially in and around River Ridge Commerce Center and the Ports of Indiana-Jeffersonville — that directly leads to about 6,000 new residents and nearly 12,000 new jobs in Clark and Floyd counties within the study period, 2012-42.
The study is an update to a similar one released in April 2012, and analyzes the project's impact on Clark and Floyd counties in Southern Indiana, as well as Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties in Kentucky.
The finance authority will take comments on it during two meetings on Tuesday, March 25.
The study's new projections factor in the latest economic conditions, as well as a 2012 traffic and revenue study that officials said supports their belief that toll revenues shared equally by the two states would be enough to pay project debts.
Like previous reports, the latest study by Boston's Economic Development Research Group Inc. forecasts an overwhelmingly positive effect on the local economy.
It acknowledges there may be a loss of retail sales in Jeffersonville and Clarksville as new development shifts from the Interstate 65 corridor to other areas off Lee Hamilton Highway. But, it says, "this will not be a net loss of retail sales to Indiana, but rather a potential shift in sales from one area to another.
"This shift should be mitigated by increases in population in Floyd and western Clark counties anticipated as a result of the project."
Land-use economic impacts in Kentucky were not calculated in the study, but it did predict that the new eastern bridge would bring new commercial development at Norton Commons and Old Brownsboro Crossing in eastern Jefferson County, as well as new residential development in Oldham County.
Fueled by an explosion of online shopping, distribution warehouse businesses in Bullitt County added more than 6,000 jobs from 2001-2011, especially along the Cedar Grove Road (Ky. 480) corridor off I-65. Although Bullitt County isn't expected to be significantly affected by the project, the study noted that a recent increase in development should continue.
In September, the tolling body of the bi-state board that oversees the Ohio River Bridges Project approved initial toll rates of $1 to $12 per trip, depending on the type of vehicle and frequency of use. It also approved an annual toll increase of 2.5 percent or the national inflation rate, whichever is greater.
While tolling is expected to have an adverse effect on the regional economy, development and other aspects "should offset the adverse impacts of tolling" and result in a positive overall impact, according to the study.
Rather than toll booths collecting cash on the existing Kennedy Bridge (I-65) and two new bridges, tolls will be assessed through pre-paid accounts or by bills mailed to the owners of vehicles whose license plates are photographed as they cross those bridges.
The bi-state board gave Indiana a green light in January to pay Kapsch TrafficCom USA of McLean, Va., about $1.4 million during the next five years to supply electronic toll transponders as well as other technological equipment needed to read them.
A separate tolling operator will be hired to supply photographic equipment that reads license plates when triggered by vehicles without transponders.
Paul Fetter, a Clarksville town councilman who has led the battle against tolls, questioned whether the latest study factored in the possibility that trucking companies, some of which make 1,000 or more cross-river trips a week, could split their operations on both sides of the river to avoid paying tolls.
"We have brought this problem to the state recently and are waiting on our leadership," Fetter said, adding that trucking company owners have indicated they would like a state tax credit to help offset toll costs.
Kerry Stemler, a member of the bi-state bridges project board, said the impact of tolls on commercial users is among many issues still being discussed.
"The people who live and work in our community are the users" who're needed to pay tolls that are tied to debt repayment and bond ratings, said Stemler, who owns KM Stemler Trucking in New Albany and says he doesn't mind paying tolls for his business.
"I don't want them to be any higher than they have to be," he said, but "there's a debt-service payment that has to paid."
The idea is to grow a strong business community on both sides of the river, with bridges that will "connect us," he said.
The finance authority will take comments on the study during two March 25 meetings, which start at 5 p.m. in the Founders Union Building at the University of Louisville Shelby Campus and in the Riverside Ballroom of the Sheraton Riverside Hotel in Jeffersonville.
Public comments also can be e-mailed through March 25 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Charlie White can be reached at (812) 949-4026 and on Twitter @c_write.
By the numbers
Here are the 30-year projections for the five-county Louisville metropolitan region, as estimated by the new economic impact study for the Ohio River Bridges Project:
$86.7 billion — Total business output impact
5,974 — Number of new Clark/Floyd residents
11,987 — Number of new jobs in Clark and Floyd counties directly related to the project
1,891 — Average number of jobs adversely affected by tolls
15,556— Average number of new jobs created
-$2.5 billion— Total adverse effect on labor income from tolls
$26.9 billion— Total effect on labor income from land use
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