Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hill on bridge tolls

Rep. Baron Hill got some attention-- some good, but mostly bad-- on the front page of the C-J in a report on Hill's feelings about the potential for using tolls to pay for part of the Bridges Project.

From Marcus Green in the C-J...

Tolls shouldn't be considered as a way to pay for the Ohio River Bridges Project, a Southern Indiana congressman said yesterday.

Despite a push for tolls in Kentucky, Hoosiers would bear a disproportionate share of funding the project, and tolls could delay it, said Rep. Baron Hill, whose 9th District is across the river from Louisville. And the Democrat took aim at the Kentucky General Assembly's approach to financing its $2.9 billion share of the $4.1 billion venture, accusing legislators of not weighing alternatives to tolls.

"All they're looking at is tolling," Hill said in an interview. "They're not spending any time on the alternatives. They've not looked at them. They've not given them a chance."

I'm not at all sure that tolls are optimal, but they should be on the table-- especially if Kentucky can't/won't afford the Bridges Project without them. If the choice is tolls or no bridges, most people in Kentuckiana will take the former!

I don't know if Hill is correct on two things here: whether Kentucky is going to the toll option too quickly (they seem to be looking at other options-- as Green notes below)-- and whether tolls would result in Indiana bearing a disproportionate burden.

Then, the reporter asks Hill a tough question-- and records his (lack of an) answer...

Asked if he thought he was promoting a double standard by opposing tolling for the Ohio River Bridges Project when Indiana's share is largely coming from proceeds from a toll-road lease in Northern Indiana, Hill said, "I've never thought of it that way, to be honest with you."

"All I know is we're able to fund it, I guess, because of Major Moves," Hill said, referring to Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road in return for cash. That money is being spent on projects such as the bridges.

Ouch! Back-tracking, professed ignorance, and having to extend praise to Governor Daniels. That's an unfortunate trifecta for the sitting congressman.

With Kentucky scrambling to find its share, lawmakers have held hearings this session on alternatives for paying for the bridges and other projects costing $500 million or more.

Besides tolls, legislative committees have heard testimony about financing ranging from vehicle licensing fees to bonds that would be repaid from future federal transportation funds.

"We looked at everything," said Rep. Don Pasley, a Winchester Democrat and chairman of the House budget review subcommittee on transportation. He is the chief sponsor of House Bill 689, which would establish a statewide authority that could levy tolls to pay for certain megaprojects....

Hill said Kentucky officials need to consider new ways to pay for the project, and "what I'm trying to do is remove the idea of tolling out of everybody's conversation."

Other top officials in Kentucky and Indiana said yesterday, however, that tolls need to stay in the funding mix.

"Every option needs to be on the table," said Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, a position echoed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who joined Abramson at a Louisville press conference.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, agreed.

Daniels, Indiana's Republican governor, "believes it's important to keep an open mind about alternatives that Kentucky may consider in its ongoing process to find funding for the bridges," said spokeswoman, Jane Jankowski.

Everyone seems to disagree with Hill here...And then the reporter throws in a few more points:

Tolls have surfaced as a possible way to pay for Kentucky's portion of the project -- new spans downtown and in eastern Jefferson County and a redesigned Spaghetti Junction interstate interchange -- because federal officials expect government funds will be scarce.

In a report earlier this year, a federal transportation commission recommended that tolls must be added to build new roads and maintain existing ones.


At March 19, 2008 at 9:02 AM , Blogger Martina said...

Shouldn't Indiana bear a slightly higher burden since a disproportionate number of our residents commute to Louisville to work? I would think it makes sense if we're the ones using it, we should be the ones to pay for it. I don't have a problem with a toll, so long as it ENDS once the project is paid for (not a neverending form of tax collection from Indiana residents to KY!)

At March 19, 2008 at 2:01 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Ideally, as a general principle, bridge users would pay for the bridge they're using-- whether Hoosiers, Louisvillians, or other-- instead of having it paid for from general funds.


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