Shutdown could affect bridge financing - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Shutdown could affect bridge financing

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The government shutdown may affect Kentucky's plan to finance its portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, a state Transportation Cabinet spokesman said Tuesday.

Unlike Indiana, which has already secured the money for an upriver bridge near Utica, Ind., and Prospect, Ky., Kentucky hasn't yet raised the remaining $750 million for a new downtown span and reconfigured Spaghetti Junction interchange.

And plans to complete the financing in early November could be delayed because a review underway for the bulk of the money – a $450 million low-interest federal loan – requires the participation of federal employees who are furloughed, said Chuck Wolfe, a Transportation Cabinet spokesman.

"We don't know what to expect," Wolfe said in an interview, adding that the anticipated delay currently amounts to "a matter of days."

Wolfe said furloughed employees from the federal Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Transportation must be involved in the loan process.

Kentucky officials, including Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock, have pushed to complete the financing as quickly as possible to avoid higher interest rates – and possibly higher tolls for drivers.

Tolls between $1 and $12 are planned for the two new bridges and the existing Kennedy Bridge, with the proceeds split between Kentucky and Indiana. Kentucky's share of toll revenue would be used to pay debt on the loan and about $300 million in additional bonds.  

The General Assembly's capital projects and bond oversight committee received an update on the bridges financing on Tuesday. Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who serves on the panel, said the uncertainty surrounding the loan approval shows that "things are so unsettled still."

There won't be an impact on the bridges project, however, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' announcement Tuesday that it has closed its regulatory offices as a result of the shutdown. That move essentially freezes the permit approval process under the federal Clean Water Act, said Carol Labashosky, a Corps spokeswoman.

Bridges officials said they have received the necessary permits and won't be affected.

But four regional projects will have their permit reviews suspended, according to the Corps. They include the Nature Conservancy's rehabilitation of a stream in the Kentucky River basin in Scott and Harrison counties in Kentucky; a coal processing facility in western Kentucky; a coal mining operation in  Lynnville, Ind.; and Faulkner Real Estate Corp.'s plan to build residential and commercial buildings on wetlands, and add new wetlands, near Jefferson Mall in Louisville.

A Faulkner official did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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