About four months of screen has narrowed the search for an I-69 bridge across the Ohio River from five to three. On Monday night, the I-69 Ohio River Crossing put those three routes on display for the people of Evansville.
Brad Byrd talks with I-69 Ohio River Crossing Spokesperson Mindy Peterson about what those three routes would entail and what the bridges would look like.
Transcript of interview:
Brad Byrd: It will dramatically change the landscape, the very face of the Tri-State. But what exactly will it look like when it is built? People in Evansville had a chance to look at three proposed routes for the Interstate 69 Ohio River bridge crossing. And while this bridge is several years from becoming reality, there are many questions that remain. I’m joined tonight by Mindy Peterson who is the spokesperson for the I-69 Ohio River Crossing project. Mindy, I know that you have been talking throughout the past several months about what this could end up being. But these open houses, you had one tonight in Evansville. You’re going to have another tomorrow night in Henderson. Put a face on this. What are people telling you? Are they worried? Are they concerned? Are the excited?”
Mindy Peterson: “I think all of those things, which is I think exactly what you expect when you talk about a very long awaited project that a lot of people have interested in. So, they are very eager for answers, and we certainly want to provide as many of those answers as possible. But it’s very early in the process. So, people come to the open houses with questions which is fantastic. That’s one of the reasons why it was about a week and a half ago we released our short list of corridors. It was very important to do that before the open houses because it’s tremendous amount of information. And we want people to come to the open houses informed, for them to come to the meeting with that information already in hand, so they had the chance to develop the questions that they had, and that’s what we saw. So, we had people who wanted to weigh in on the corridors. People who had questions that we were not able to answer yet such as will my home be impacted, will my business be impacted? It’s still a little early in the process still but very good questions and some people who just want to find out more. They want to know what’s happening, and they also want to express their opinions. That’s exactly what we want.”
Brad Byrd: “Okay, now Chris if we can roll some video of the U.S. 41 strip. Undoubtedly, the U.S. 41 corridor in Henderson is causing some major issues, and it’s because of decades of how it was planned out. The Twin Bridges, all of that I-69 traffic coming in from the north and Indiana and from the south in Kentucky is being funneled right there the video you see here into the bottleneck we call the Henderson strip. Now, you came in tonight on U.S. 41. You drove past Audubon State Park, you went by the car dealerships, all of those businesses. Just tell me. Did you picture an interstate smack dabbed in the middle of all that?”
Mindy Peterson: “We talked about it on the way in. My colleague and I were talking about it. You’re talking about a different corridor at that point in time if that is the corridor that is selected. It’s very important to say no decisions have been made. But we do have three corridors moving forward. Two of those are in the west: west corridor 1 and west corridor 2. So, you’re talking about impacts that are both significant to both homes and businesses, and all of that will be weighed by the interstate team. As far as having an interstate there, what would be there is likely a six lane interstate bridge that would likely replace the aging Twin Bridges. And as you know, those Twin Bridges have been around for a long time. One of those bridges is 50 years old. One of the bridges is 80 years old. When you have that type of aging infrastructure, the amount of money that is spent on maintenance is very, very high. So, when you talk about those west corridors, one thing about that is it would offer the lowest operations and maintenance costs for both Kentucky and Indiana.
Brad Byrd: “And as you see as you drove over tonight, the Fix It 41 Project now underway. And the bridges are converted to three lanes one on the other. With that being said, you narrowed this down to three corridors. Two of them are definitely in that corridor where it would be along Audubon Park and cutting into the strip and then hooking up which is the Pennyrile which will be I-69. And then there is the central corridor which is between the Green River Rd. exit on I-69 and U.S. 41. The disadvantage of that corridor compared to the west corridor because there would be a four lane bridge built there?”
Mindy Peterson: “Currently, that’s the plan, Brad. It’s early in the process, but that would be determined by what happens with the Twin Bridges because if we choose the central corridor, we still have to address the Twin Bridges. They’re very much apart of this project because this project is talking about the purpose is the need of long term river crossing mobility. You can’t talk about long term crossing mobility without talking about the Twin Bridges and what is going to happen to them. So, with the central corridor, you still have to say what is going to happen to the Twin Bridges. And that could mean both the Twin Bridges stay exactly where they are, but that would require maintenance then. How do you make that work financially? What do you do if you have a new I-69 crossing and the Twin Bridges? It could be a scenario where you have one of the bridges is maintained, or it could be a scenario where both of the Twin Bridges is replaced because that could happen with the central corridor in which the central corridor would be a six lane bridge.”
Brad Byrd: “Okay, now that would be a major change. Obviously, you’ve stated it very well the southbound bridge is the newer of the Twin Bridges. And of course the public works project, the original 41 bridge, the northbound. The environmental impact on this, though, there have been several calls for hearings on the environment. Tell me about how that process will work.”
Mindy Peterson: “Right, so we are in the midst of a process that does take time, and I think people want to know why it takes so long. What the study is it’s required by the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s a needed study that’s drafting this environmental statement. That’s what we’re working toward. That’s what we hope to have developed by Fall of next year, that draft environmental impact statement. That’s when we have one. That’s when were down to a preferred alternative. At that point, we do have public hearings about the process that do take place. And there’s always though a time for the public to weigh in exactly what we do at the open houses. For example tonight, we had a great turnout in Evansville. Nice, large crowd, engaged crowd. We also had in addition to comment cards, people fill out those comment cards, they become part of the project, and all of those comments are considered. We had a stenographer there, who was in the corner if anyone didn’t want to fill out a card. If they wanted to come over and tell you this is what I like, this is what I don’t like, this is what I’m concerned about. They had the opportunity to do that. All of that will become record for the project.”
Brad Byrd: “And forgive me for be presumptuous, and you are speaking for ORX here. I’m not saying you along are saying this. It seems like the west corridors are being tentatively favored simply because of the cost maintenance of those bridges. But I’m looking at this map. If we could bring the map up here, Chris, we can pretty much see here what I’m talking about. Right there in the middle of the screen, you have the west corridor one and two. That is smack dabbed in John James Audubon State Park. Could that get bogged down in the environmental process if that is indeed the path we’re going to take?”
Mindy Peterson: “No, the reason why we’re moving forward with these three corridors is because these are the three that make the most sense. Part of the screening process, we took a look at environmental impacts and where those impacts will be greatest. Those corridors would not have a significant impact there, but I want to back up first because I don’t want to give the impression that the decision has been made. No decisions have been made in the process. It’s very early and it’s important for folks to know when they come out and they listen to what is going to happen to the Twin Bridges, what corridor it’s going to be, what’s going to be tolled, it’s early. We want to talk about those things because it’s important for people to be informed. Tolling is very much about the conversation we’re having. I can’t sit here and tell you what the toll rate would be. I can’t tell you if would be talking about the I-69 bridge. I can’t talk about a toll for the Twin Bridges, if that would be a different toll rate. All of those answers are still to come. A lot of work to be done.”
Brad Byrd: “I can imagine people paying a toll for something they’ve had free for decades and decades. One last question on this, look at the crystal ball, are we looking at ten years that we’ll be able to drive on this super structure that’s going to be built? Or could it be sooner?”
Mindy Peterson: “You know, it’s hard to say. I will tell you where we’re at with the project. We are right on schedule where we want to be on the short list of corridors. That’s good news. Where we’re working toward is the preferred alternative in late 2018. And what we’re really working towards to is that record decision. That’s very important. That’s late 2019. When you have that rod, the federal government, and you have federal funding available, that’s when you really move forward. That’s when you really talk about design, which is really excited for everybody to talk about. That’s when you really talk about construction. So, if we get to the rod in late 2019, and we start to talk about design right away and construction, then I think there would be a chance you’re driving down this bridge in the next decade or so.”
Brad Byrd: “Okay, looking forward to talking you in the future. Mindy Peterson, thank you so much for representing the ORX I-69 group. It is going to be quite the process we’re going to see in the next few years. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us tonight and the open house tomorrow night in Henderson.”
Mindy Peterson: “Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.”
(This story was originally published on July 31, 2017)