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Kentucky, Indiana seek federal funds for new Ohio River toll bridge

Kentucky and Indiana are lobbying for federal funds to cover half the cost of a bistate Ohio River bridge that would connect the Interstate-69 national trade corridor.

The I-69 Ohio River Crossing is more than 20 years in the planning and in the end will feature a four-lane, tolled bridge carrying I-69 from southern Indiana to northern Kentucky.

The new span will close a gap in the National I-69 Corridor, a key trade route that, when finished, will run from Michigan’s Canadian border to Texas’ Mexican border.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, pictured at the June 2022 groundbreaking for the I-69 Ohio River Bridge project, has named the project one of his administration’s top priorities.

I-69 Ohio River Crossing

Supporters say the $1.4 billion project will spark population growth, jobs, and economic activity across the two states. Indiana projects the completion of I-69 across the Hoosier State and linking to Kentucky will generate $4 billion of new economic activity in its state.

The states on Monday applied for $632.3 million from the Multimodal Discretionary Grant Program, an umbrella program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that supports projects with
national or regional significance or improve infrastructure in rural areas.

The program features $15 billion in available funding through 2026, with up to
$5.575 billion available from the 2023 and 2024 allocations that are being awarded in the current round.

The umbrella program includes three prominent discretionary grant programs: the National Infrastructure Project Assistance, or Mega, program; the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, program; and the Rural Surface Transportation Grant program. Last year, the administration announced $1.2 billion in Mega grants for nine projects, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the program “wildly competitive,” with 138 applicants and only nine winners.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last year also awarded $1.5 billion for 26 projects through the INFRA program and $274 million for 12 projects through the Rural grant program.

If the grant is approved, the states will kick in $514 million from other funding – transportation officials were not immediately available to comment on whether that would include bonds – and have already spent $265 million on environmental studies and construction of the first section of the project in Kentucky.

The awards are expected to be announced by early 2024, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“Our administration has pledged to seek and compete for every available federal dollar for this much anticipated and long-needed project,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news release. “It’s important nationally because the crossing will close a major gap in the I-69 corridor. It’s important internationally because I-69 is a major freight corridor stretching from Canada to Mexico.”

 The Ohio River crossing is one of Beshear’s top three megaproject priorities. The others are the $3.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project linking northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, and the $400 million expansion and extension of the Mountain Parkway through eastern Kentucky.

It will be the second major project this century linking the two states across the Ohio River.

The $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project built two new spans connecting metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky with the Jeffersonville, Indiana area, about 120 miles north of the new planned bridge. The project, which includes tolls, opened in 2016.

The I-69 bridge will replace a pair of decades-old bridges that were “not designed for interstate travel,” according to the states. The crossing will be built to be more resilient to extreme weather, among other improvements.

The project is divided into three sections. Construction on the Kentucky side, led by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, started in the summer of 2022, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

The second section is the bistate project that includes the new river crossing. Construction is set to begin in 2027 and be completed in 2031.

Construction on the third section, in Indiana, will begin in early 2024 and be completed in 2026.

I-69 will eventually run for 1,660 miles across the country. The road currently consists of 10 nonconnected segments, with progress varied depending on the state.

Kentucky is working with Tennessee to convert another 20 miles of parkway into I-69 in the southern part of the state.

Indiana is in the sixth and final stage of its I-69 project, which connects the capital, Indianapolis, to Evansville, and is expected to carry a total price tag of $4 billion. The full highway is set to open by the end of 2024.

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