By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Under a proposal picked Friday by the state financing authority, the Indiana portion of the long-awaited Ohio River Bridges Project would be completed under budget and far ahead of the original project schedule.
The preliminary proposal approved by the Indiana Finance Authority would design and build what’s known as the east-end crossing for $763 million — 23 percent lower than previous cost estimates — and have a new bridge that connects two sections of Interstate 265 over the Ohio River open to traffic by October 2016. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said the lower-than-expected construction cost opens up the possibility that the tolls that motorists would pay to cross the bridges might also be lower than first predicted.
WVB East End Partners, a consortium made up of Walsh Investors, VINCI Concessions, Bilfinger Berger and other national and international partners, submitted the proposal that edged out three other finalists.
Thursday’s news triggers the final steps toward a joint Indiana-Kentucky construction project that will result in the building of two Ohio River bridges and upgrading highway interchanges around Southern Indiana and Louisville.
Daniels praised the public-private partnership that uses a nontraditional funding mechanism and high expectations for design and construction deadlines to make a project that’s been talked about since the 1970s a reality.
“I’ve gone places where there is a complete change in vocabulary,” said Daniels, after the WVB East End Partners proposal was announced. “What I used to hear was, ‘That will never happen.’ And now I hear, ‘I can’t believe I lived to see it.’”
While Kentucky is using traditional financing for its portion of the project, Indiana will use its share of the toll revenues from project bridges to repay the contracting team’s costs during a period of 35 years following construction.
Nearly 10 years ago, the estimated cost of building the new bridges and improving access to them was more than $4.1 billion. Even two years ago, transportation officials in Indiana and Kentucky thought the project’s price tag would be well more than $2 billion, Daniels said.
There are still some hoops to be jumped through before construction begins; INDOT has already scheduled a public hearing on the project for Dec. 1 in Jeffersonville. The state Finance Authority will have to approve the final plan at a Dec. 3 meeting before it goes back to Daniels for his final approval.
But the governor, now in the final weeks of his two-term tenure in office, was clearly pleased and thinking ahead.
“This will be great for commuters and great for existing businesses on both sides,” he said. “But there isn’t any question this will spark a lot of investment and a lot of new jobs in an area of the state that in 10 years you’ll look at as one of our stars.”
Indiana will be responsible for completing an interstate loop around Louisville by connecting the Gene Snyder Freeway (Ky. 841) with the Lee Hamilton Highway (Ind. 265). Kentucky is responsible for the downtown crossing portion of the project, which will build a new Interstate 65 northbound bridge and reconfigure nearby interchanges in downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville.
On Thursday, Kentucky chose Chicago-based Walsh Construction Co. as its contractor for the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project. The winning team offered a cost of $971 million with a completion date of Dec. 10, 2016, for the design-build project.
Indiana and Kentucky used similar methods to pick the top proposal, submitted by contractors who had been short-listed by state transportation officials. Price proposals and technical proposals for the projects were scored separately then added together to determine the “best value” contractor for the project.
Technical proposals combined design and construction plans — that made up 25 percent of a composite score — and work force plans for training and including minorities, women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises — that totaled 5 percent of the overall score — and were submitted Oct. 1 and evaluated by a panel of cabinet and consulting professionals, according to the release.
The price proposals, which included both cost and days of construction, made up the remaining portion of the overall score.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.