The bi-state group steering the I-69 bridge process is committed not only to deciding what route should be chosen, but how a new bridge should be funded, officials said Monday.
Both questions are complex, and public input is important, according to I-69 Ohio River Crossing. The organization conducted at open house in Evansville Monday. A second one will be 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Henderson Community College Preston Fine Arts Center, 2660 S. Green St.
Three routes for a new bridge remain under consideration:
- West Corridor 1 would impact residential communities along U.S. 41. A six-lane bridge would be built, and the existing U.S. 41 twin bridges would be removed from service.
- West Corridor 2 would impact businesses and some residences along U.S. 41. It would also involve a six-lane bridge, and the existing U.S. 41 twin bridges would be removed from service.
- Central Corridor 1 would cross the Ohio River east of Ellis Park and link to I-69 (the current U.S. 41) at a new interchange south of U.S. 60 in Henderson. It would be a four-lane bridge, and under this option, the future of the U.S. 41 twin bridges is undetermined. It is possible one or both could remain in service.
A fourth option -- no build -- exists for the sake of comparison and is required by law, officials with I-69 Ohio River Crossing said. I-69 Ohio River Crossing is a collaboration of the Indiana Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Audience members attending Monday’s open house at Milestones on South Cullen Avenue were told that expenses of maintaining the existing twin bridges must be part of the conversation. The twins opened in 1932 and 1965.
While Central Corridor 1 is considered the option least costly to build, keeping one or both of the twin bridges in use would increase long-term costs of that alternative.
The local advocacy organization I-69 BridgeLink, however, backs Central Corridor 1 and keeping at least one twin bridge open, so travelers would have more than one place where they can cross. I-69 BridgeLink consists of elected officials and other community leaders from the Evansville and Henderson areas.
“It’s the least expensive, and we know the cost of this project is going to be very crucial,” said Henderson County Judge-Executive Brad Schneider, a BridgeLink board member. “It leaves the twin bridges up, and we know there is some expense in that, but we think doing something like diverting commercial truck traffic off the twin bridges to the new bridge, could help extend the life of the twin bridges. Keeping the newer of the twin bridges up so that people could use it for free as a local route, we really like that.”
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, also a BridgeLink member, supports Central Corridor 1, Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer said.
Warrick County Chamber of Commerce Director Shari Sherman said Central Corridor 1 “has the fewest interchanges, and our thinking was it seems to be the most viable.”
Tolls appear likely to be part of the bridge’s funding picture, but no decisions have been reached on how that would work. I-69 Ohio River Crossing officials say tolls could be on a new I-69 bridge or on the existing U.S. 41 bridges if those stay in use.
Those officials on Monday said no scenarios regarding tolls have been ruled out.
Herman Rushe of Newburgh is hopeful the region will have two points at which to drive back-and-forth among Indiana and Kentucky.
“It’s a bad idea to not have two ways across the river,” Rushe said.
The fate of Eagle Slough, a natural area along U.S. 41 just north of Ellis Park, was of concern to Susan Haislip. Haislip is administrative director of Sycamore Land Trust, a nonprofit that owns the property and strives to protect nature in Southern Indiana.
“It’s 127 acres of forested wetland, and it provides a fabulous habitat for migrating animals and birds,” said Haislip, who lives in Petersburg, Indiana. “It provides a wonderful area for the residents of Evansville and Henderson to walk and hike and enjoy nature. We do prefer the Central Corridor. We recognize this entire area is environmentally sensitive, but the western route would have a lot of negative impact on the property.”
After this week’s open houses, the next steps in the process as outlined by I-69 Ohio River Crossing include:
- Open houses in winter 2018 to discuss progress on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Environmental studies are ongoing.
- Identification of a preferred alternative sometime in summer or fall 2018, and public hearings on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
- Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on the new bridge’s route in fall 2019.