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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's transportation chief said Monday that he doesn't expect commercial truck traffic on the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges to increase at the levels assumed in the state's traffic study for the Ohio River Bridges Project.
A WDRB.com analysis, based on the report released in late August, shows that trucks seeking to avoid tolls on the new river crossings will increasingly choose the toll-free Minton and Clark, resulting in truck volumes climbing by more than 125 percent on those existing spans by 2030.
But Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said he anticipates different results once drivers begin using the new bridges starting in 2016.
"Once the public has had an opportunity to use the bridges – the new bridges once they're built -- and to experience the tolling and the other things that go along with that, we think there will be a period where things will settle out and the traffic that we see won't be perhaps as high as some of the initial estimates. … I think we'll likely be somewhere in the middle," Hancock said.
Overall, the existing spans are projected to carry most interstate truck traffic in the future, rather than the new bridges downtown and upriver near Utica, Ind. About 8,500 trucks currently use the Minton and Clark each day, but 19,250 trucks will cross those spans by 2030, while 17,400 will use the I-65 bridges and the new eastern crossing, according to estimates.
Asked whether it makes sense to build the new toll bridges while traffic projections show most heavy trucks will choose existing routes, Hancock said: "I guess the choice there is to let the old (I-65) bridge in downtown Louisville suffice forever, and I don't think the economy of the region would fare well if that were the case."
The WDRB.com analysis shows the majority of commercial trucks won't select I-65, but Hancock said the results of the recent traffic study are "naturally conservative." He noted that a previous report from 2012 predicted higher overall traffic levels, in part because it was done to measure the project's environmental impact.
"This is all going to work out somewhere in between, and I believe at the end of the day the Metro Louisville area will be well served by the project that we're currently building," he said.
The heaviest commercial trucks, such as tractor trailers, would pay between $10 and $12 to cross the toll bridges – a rehabilitated Kennedy Bridge; an adjacent span being built next to it; and the bridge connecting I-265 in eastern Jefferson County.
Kentucky House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, also said Monday that he doesn't believe the diversion of truck traffic to the toll-free bridges will be as high as projected.
"The trucking industry is going to evaluate, per mile, their costs and analyze that," Clark said. "And I think most of them are going to use the new bridges because I think they'll save time and money."
"I don't think you're going to see many of them -- to save $12 -- drive another 20 or 30 miles when it will cost them that in fuel," he said.