Louisville Spent $2.4 Billion on New Bridges While Traffic Fell Sharply

The initial figures are in and the new Louisville bridges are on track to be as big a failure as predicted.

I’ve written a lot about this $2.4 billion project to build two new bridges across the Ohio River. They are now open to traffic and collecting tolls.

You may recall that Indiana and Kentucky’s’ own traffic projections predicted that the old downtown I-65 bridge + the new downtown bridge + the new east end bridge combined would carry less traffic in 2030 than just the existing downtown bridge I-65 bridge did in 2007.

Source: Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Traffic & Revenue Study, Table 6.4, Page 87 (page 107 in PDF) and Table ES-2, Page ii (Page 6 in PDF)

The new downtown bridge was supposed to work in tandem with the old downtown bridge as one way pairs carrying I-65 across the river. Traffic on the combined bridges was projected to never again equal the 2012 traffic on just the original downtown bridge – at least not until the end of the forecast in 2054.

Source: Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Traffic & Revenue Study, Table 6.4, Page 87 (page 107 in PDF); Table ES-2, Page ii (Page 6 in PDF); Table 6.7, Page 91 (page 111 in PDF); and Table 5.17, Page 79 (page 99 in PDF)

The data released last month by RiverLink is consistent with these projections. They have average weekday traffic on the combined downtown spans at 72,872, a bit below the 2018 projected level. So it’s in the ballpark of projected levels (albeit radically lower projections than the inflated ones originally used to sell the project).

Traffic is still ramping up on these bridges so may actually somewhat exceed those forecasts, but the most important thing to note is that the combined old+new downtown bridge is carrying 63,000 fewer cars than just the old downtown bridge did in 2007 – that’s twice as much  bridge capacity but a 46% decline in traffic.

Adding in the East End bridge, where there was previously no way to cross the river, gives you another 16,616 cars for a total of 89,488 weekday vehicles. This is 46,500 fewer cars than just the old Kennedy Bridge alone carried in 2007 – a 34% decline.

Even the local media, historically cheerleaders for this project, have noticed that traffic has yet to return to pre-construction levels, despite a massive increase in capacity.

To get a sense for what this looks like, City Observatory screencapped some traffic camera images of the bridges at rush hour:

I-65 traffic (north and southbound feed to and from downtown bridges) at 5:07pm on a Tuesday.

Massive expense, big tolls, fewer cars than ever. Even if way down the road these bridges fill up, this project is a financial boondoggle of epic proportions.


from Aaron M. Renn


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