Bridges to result in spending boost in Kentucky, economist says - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bridges to result in spending boost in Kentucky, economist says

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Economist Paul Coomes told business leaders Monday that he expects the soon-to-be-complete East End Bridge will help create more than 10,000 new jobs in eastern Clark County, Ind., over the next decade.

The span between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., is scheduled to open Sunday, effectively marking the opening of the entire $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project after decades of planning, studies and battles over funding.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by One Southern Indiana and Greater Louisville Inc. – the Louisville-area chambers of commerce – Coomes said Kentucky also stands to gain from a “big boost” in sales at stores, restaurants and hotels.

Coomes, a retired University of Louisville professor and executive director of the state Office of Health Policy, said he agreed with the findings of a 2012 study commissioned by Indiana that estimates the Louisville region will gain roughly 18,000 jobs in the next three decades as a result of the project.

The new eastern bridge links Kentucky’s Gene Snyder Freeway with the Lee Hamilton Highway in Indiana. The connection provides greater access to the Port of Indiana at Jeffersonville and the River Ridge Commerce Center – developments Coomes predicts will attract 10,000 to 15,000 jobs in the next decade.

“There’s going to be a real, great mobility advantage for workers to get to their place of work,” he said. “But there’s also going to be a great advantage on the retail side, particularly in, I think, northeast Jefferson County.”

But along with that growth, Coomes warned of “gridlock” along Interstate 71 and the Gene Snyder Freeway.

“We’ve got some congestion problems, and I think the East End Bridge is going to make that worse,” he said. “So that’s what’s coming.”

The luncheon was held in a meeting room at the KFC Yum! Center overlooking the Interstate 65 Lincoln Bridge and the Kennedy Bridge. Kentucky and Indiana plan announce Tuesday when tolls are expected to start on those spans, as well as the eastern crossing.

Business leaders urged lawmakers in both states to overcome obstacles to the bridges project, which was approved in 2003 but languished for years amid funding difficulties. The Bridges Coalition, whose members included manufacturers and logistics companies, spent $117,000 lobbying the Kentucky General Assembly from 2008 to 2011.

And the politically-appointed Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, which endorsed tolls for the project and decided the bridges to toll, included members of the local chambers of commerce and business leaders. Several of those officials attended Monday’s event at the Yum! Center.

For the most part, Kent Oyler, President and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., and Wendy Dant Chesser, President and CEO of One Southern Indiana, spoke Monday about how the region’s businesses advocated for the project, while sidestepping controversies over tolls and the debate over building just one span.

“Big things can happen when the business community and the public sector work together hand in hand and have a vision and make it a reality – and that’s what we’re looking at out this window here,” Oyler said.

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