LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The federal government has approved a plan to pay for a $4.1 billion project to build two Ohio River bridges and reconstruct a downtown interchange.
The move by the Federal Highway Administration to free federal funds for the project clears the way for Kentucky and Indiana to start construction this year.
But that doesn't mean Kentucky has the $2.9 billion it must contribute. Funding is expected to be a contentious issue when the Kentucky General Assembly convenes next week.
Kentucky would use federal and state money it receives through gasoline taxes and other revenue - an approach that has been criticized by some lawmakers for using large parts of the state's road budget.
"This is an important step in the process for us," Matt Bullock, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's interim project manager, said in reacting to the federal approval. "We will engage the legislature as we continue this discussion regarding the best ways to finance this project."
Under the plan, Indiana intends to rely on cash from leasing a toll road in the northern part of the state to help cover its $1.1 billion share.
Mayor Jerry Abramson and Ed Glasscock, a Louisville attorney and chairman of the Build the Bridges Coalition, said the federal action moves the project forward.
Among the next challenges is finding a way to fund the plan.
"You have to take it a step at a time and you have to have the finance plan in place as you move forward with the second step in the financing process," Glasscock said.
Under the plan, a bridge between eastern Jefferson County and Utica, Ind., would be open by 2014; a downtown bridge by 2020; and a new interchange east of downtown Louisville by 2024.
Leslie Barras, associate director of River Fields, a Louisville land conservation group opposed to an eastern bridge, questioned the sequence of the project. She said an environmental report on the project didn't recommend the eastern span be built first.
She said that some in the legislature have questioned the state's ability to finance the project.
"The General Assembly has not approved this plan," she said in a statement. "Kentucky leaders in both parties have repeatedly said that Kentucky cannot pay for it."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)