JEFFERSONVILLE — Local residents acknowledged the benefit the east-end bridge will provide to the region for the planned Ohio River Bridges Project, but called to stop the construction and the use of tolls on the planned downtown bridge.
The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Finance Authority held a public hearing Thursday night to present and collect comments on an economic impact study released April 16.
The economic impact and preliminary feasibility study are required by Indiana statute in order to enter into a public-private agreement, which the state identified as its preferred financing structure for the project. The study was completed by the Boston-based Economic Development Research Group, which reported that the region would add on average 17,796 jobs annually, result in $27.3 billion in personal income and $78 billion in economic output for the region.
Similar to the first public comment hearing on Indiana’s financing plan, the turnout was minimal. More than a dozen members of the public attended the meeting, and of those attending, only seven spoke.
But resoundingly, for those who did offer public comments, the message was the same.
“We’ve worked long and hard for 20 years of our ownership to build regionalism here; putting a toll to cross from one side of the community to the other will just tear us apart,” said Warren Schimpff, co-owner of Schimpff’s Confectionery.
Jill Schimpff, who spoke before her husband said tolling on the downtown corridor would put an end to their business that is more than 120-years-old.
“Schimpff ’s Confectionery has been in downtown Jeffersonville since 1891 and tolling will kill us,” she said getting choked up. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Clarksville Town Councilman Paul Fetter, who was on-hand representing Clark County Auto Auction and Organization for a Better Southern Indiana, also said the tolling the downtown corridor will have a tremendous impact on his business.
He said his business will face an additional $100,000 annually in transportation costs and will face a $7 million to $10 million reduction in sales annually with tolls on the downtown bridge.
Tolls are expected to negatively impact employment by 1,578 jobs over the 30year time period, negatively affect personal income by $2.2 billion over the 30year time frame and negatively affect business output by $5.58 billion over the same period, according to the study.
However, the study claimed the negative impact of tolling was outweighed by the benefits completing the project will provide.
“The adverse impact of tolling can be seen as the ‘price paid’ for the positive impacts of the project,” according to the study. It also cited, as a result of improved market access, the bridges are expected to generate about $1.3 million per year in local tax revenues.
Many of the speakers also responded to the benefit of the bridges project and the economic study said it will provide.
“These two bridges are completely different in how tolling will affect the community and their impacts should be evaluated separately,” Fetter said. “The economic impact study, to me, seems to be a study developed with a goal.”
The survey was completed in seven weeks. Twenty-nine individuals — one of whom was Fetter — were interviewed and there were 81 respondents surveyed.
Fetter said the respondents were found through One Southern Indiana’s — a group supporting the construction and tolling of both planned bridges — email database and of 15 questions, only two were related to tolling.
“They never went through Jeffersonville knocking on doors,” he said.
At the same time Fetter said Organization for a Better Southern Indiana conducted a similar survey and found 168 businesses were opposed to tolling.
Warren Schimpff agreed the study was inadequate.
“We got an hour’s worth of input for the impact of a lifetime,” he said. “There’s about six economic impacts, which one were they working on?” he said.
“These people from Boston didn’t know anything,” Jill Schimpff said, interjecting. “They didn’t do their homework, they didn’t know anything about this area.”
Both said they are concerned about what the closure of exit 0 will do to their business and what the economic impact will be on their business during construction.
What was not disputed was the potential positive impacts the bridge will have on the east- end, specifically the benefit the bridge will provide to the River Ridge Commerce Center.
“It clearly shows a tremendous economic benefit to building the east-end bridge,” said Clark and Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau Executive Director Jim Keith. “When you got to the analysis of the second bridge, I-65 corridor, it became negative.”
Irv Stumler, former New Albany mayoral candidate and Floyd County resident, pointed to the Louisville-based conservancy group River Fields for adding unnecessary bloat to the project.
“They’re not conservationists, they’re obstructionists,” he said. “I’m a bit upset about the whole process. And I don’t think it’s necessary at this point to build a downtown bridge, especially redoing all of Spaghetti Junction and throwing all of that in and expect Indiana to pay because of what Kentucky should have done years and years ago.”
An outstanding lawsuit with River Fields must still be resolved before Indiana can break ground on the $1.3 billion east-end portion of the project.
Lynn Rhodea, who said she lives on the outskirts of Jeffersonville near Utica, agreed the east-end bridge needs to be built and would pay tolls to cross it.
“We don’t need another downtown bridge, we need an east-end bridge,” she said.
Rhodea, a small business owner and travel agent, added that with tolling downtown, her business will not survive.
“Adding tolls on the 65 bridge will wipe me out,” she said. “I’m a travel agent ... I’ve been in the business since 1980. I survived 9/11, I survived the recession, but I will not survive tolls. It’s hard enough to get them to come over to Indiana as it is,” she said referring to Kentucky residents.
“My dream would be just to do away with the downtown bridge,” she said. “It is not needed. I know it’s not needed. As sure as I’m standing here, we don’t need another bridge down here.”
State transportation officials said Thursday’s public comments will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and included in the Record-of-decision, which is expected to be returned in mid-june.