The Cost of Mobility in Louisville

The Louisville Ohio River Bridges Project, a joint effort by Kentucky and Indiana to expand the junction of I-65, I-71 and I-64, aims to break ground on the East End Crossing in August. Let’s take a moment to reflect on how these changes will affect Louisvillians.

Louisville residents already travel approximately 31 miles in their cars per person per day, the 15th most vehicle miles traveled in the 50 largest metro areas. Of the 31 vehicle miles traveled, around half occur on an expressway, which ranks Louisville 11th with the most vehicle miles traveled on expressways.

According to the 2009 Highway Performance Monitoring System Report, Louisville had 4,592 roadway miles, of which 136 were part of the Interstate Highway System. An additional 22 miles were classified as other freeways or expressways. While the overall portion of expressway miles may not seem high, Louisville is currently the 45th most populated metro area, and has the 10th lowest population per expressway mile with one mile per 5,388 residents (of the 50 largest metros). Kentucky, despite its lower density, is investing a tremendous amount of money in highway infrastructure compared to other metros.

Direct cost estimates from The Ohio River Bridges website state that the proposed project will remove $72.5 million worth of homes and businesses from the tax base in Jefferson County. In addition, the approximate loss of property value caused by urban expressways is approximately $173,000 per impacted acre or about $99 million per mile, as calculated by urban designer Steve Mouzon. Impacts can extend to almost half-a-mile away from the actual expressway right-of-way, amplifying the negative economic effect urban expressways can have on surrounding areas.

And these negative effects are forecast for the long run. The Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the project states it will cost Jefferson County over 6,000 jobs (over 10,000 jobs for Kentucky as a whole) by 2025 due to jobs moving to Indiana, compared with the no-action-alternative. This translates into roughly $204 million in annual lost wages in Jefferson County and almost $400 million in lost wages for Kentucky as a whole.

The projected cost has risen from a 2003 estimate of $2.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars to $4.1 billion today. As a result, the project has been redesigned to save money by maintaining the downtown Louisville interchange and eliminating features such as bike and pedestrian bridge access. Even with these changes, the project is still estimated to cost more than $2.6 billion.

Instead of expanding the junction, converting 2.0 miles of expressway into an at- grade boulevard – as championed by the local 8664 citizens activist group - would create 60 acres of re-claimable land that could be put to more economically viable uses that would add value to the city. An analysis conducted by the 8664 group shows that moving the interchange east of Louisville would meet current and future transportation needs effectively, while reconnecting the city and riverfront and creating opportunities for economic development.

With the June 2012 Record of Decision on hand, this project is on course and scheduled to break ground soon. In light of Louisville’s population and possible property value loss, the highway investment holds questionable value for taxpayers. Kentucky taxpayers should question whether the high cost of mobility is worth the loss in value, livability and economic growth.


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