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Harrison-Jefferson County bridge still possible

The Louisville Metro Council is considering forming a bridge commission to look at the feasibility of constructing a bridge across the Ohio River linking southwest Jefferson County, Ky., with eastern Harrison County.
The possibility of a toll bridge first came up for discussion about 1-1/2 years ago. At that time, county officials noted that such a project would be out of their jurisdiction and would require the cooperation of the state.
Now, Doug Hawkins, Metro’s 25th District Councilman, said yesterday by telephone the proposal to study the issue is more politically acceptable now that leadership in the transportation cabinet is supportive.
Construction would be financed with a bond issue which in turn would be paid off with tolls charged to the more than 5,000 drivers expected to cross the bridge each day. ‘The taxpayers are not going to be burdened by this,’ he said.
Earlier estimates put the costs at $45 million to $50 million, but the rising cost of steel pushed that to $70 million. Now, Hawkins said, steel prices are falling, so there’s no current projection.
In a letter, Hawkins asked the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for comments regarding such a proposal, for or against establishing a study commission.
‘Before we begin the first step here in Louisville of forming a commission to do the complex work of exploring this proposal in detail, we would like to be assured that there is no formal objection at this time from either state or local government in Indiana to our taking this first step,’ Hawkins said.
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, whose district includes the eastern boundary of the Ohio River where a bridge would most likely connect, said, ‘I’m not interested in pushing the project … it’s probably in the best interest of the community, but you hate to see it happening. It will change the county.’
But, he added. ‘I’m not opposed to forming a commission.’
‘I think a new bridge would provide more economic opportunity to the residents of our county,’ said Commissioner James Goldman. ‘I think it’s our responsibility to look at it in that respect.’
Commission chair J.R. Eckart suggested responding favorably to forming a study commission and asking to be kept informed on any developments. He suggested that a representative from Harrison County be allowed to sit in on the commission’s discussions.
Goldman’s motion to respond to Hawkins letter to that effect was seconded by Heitkemper.
If the council does decide to form a commission, Hawkins said it would study the feasibility and where a bridge might be located. ‘By law, this will be a self-funded toll bridge, and no monetary participation by state or local Indiana sources would be required,’ Hawkins said. ‘In fact, there would likely be no federal money involved from either state as well.’
Responding to concerns that the rural nature of southeastern Harrison County would change if a bridge were built, Hawkins said future expansion and development are inevitable. ‘If you plan for it and do it properly, then you don’t have to give up the rural atmosphere.
‘Anything that we do on this side of the river won’t be done without the full consultation and agreement from the other side,’ Hawkins said.
Hawkins stressed the goal is not to build a bridge to handle traffic to Caesars Indiana casino along S.R. 111 at Bridgeport.
He said a bridge would open both sides of the river to economic development.
The metro council’s next committee hearing on the proposal is Sept. 6 at 4:30 p.m. at Louisville Metro City Hall in Louisville.