Last Friday, the Indiana Finance Authority held a public hearing on $775 million in bonds they’re issuing to start construction on the East End bridge component of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
IFA didn’t bring any information to present such as, say, that investment grade toll study we’ve been looking for. Rather, they were only hosting the meeting to be in compliance with the legal minimum standard of open meeting laws.
Considering the hearing was an hour’s drive away from where the project’s taking place, it was no surprise then there were 15 souls present – nine employees of IFA, KYTC, or ORBP; two of us were journalists, four were Kentucky citizens and one attendee was an Indiana citizen.
This turnout must have felt like an ambush to IFA because the same body held a public hearing on the same bonds in Indianapolis a few days ago on February 19, and according to IFA spokesperson Cindy Herron, no one came.
Tyler Allen, 8664 co-founder, did attend the most recent hearing.
Here’s what Tyler said to the IFA:
“Who is actually commissioning the investment grade toll study?”
“…But at least, I would hope, once again, I’m speaking to an Indiana commission in the state of Kentucky as a Kentucky citizen, I have no clue what my rights are with you all. But I will take this opportunity, just in case for the spirit of openness, you all can in some way, release information to the press, telling when that toll study will be done, who’s doing it, and how it will figure into your calculations.”
Allen’s questions are questions we have asked ourselves; questions that led us to issue open records requests. Kentucky has denied our open records request, saying they haven’t received a copy of Indiana’s toll study either.
Last week, J. Andrew Kienle, legal counsel for the Indiana Finance Authority wrote us to say that IFA is “working to gather and review information relating to your request and we will be in touch with you further once such becomes available.” (Not holding our breath.)
Here’s Kienle’s letter:
Three of the people present Friday were African-American businessmen, an investment banker from Indianapolis and two janitorial an safety supply guys from Nicholasville, Ky. They came to voice concern that DBE’s, disadvantaged business entities, may not be getting access to opportunities as promised in the project.
Eric Green, an Indianapolis investment banker with Backstrom McCarley Berry and Co., LLC said that his firm is the only qualified minority-owned investment banking in Indiana, yet they’re not being considered for the project.
“Now we’re at a point where we’re talking about financing, and if I’m not part of this particular financing, I’m done I’m out. There’s nothing else for me to do later on.”
Also at the meeting was retired University of Louisville Professor David Blank.
Blank had many concerns, the first of which was the threat that the proposed tolls would be a toll on the poor. Blank advocated for Kentucky House Rep. Jim Wayne’s recent Courier-Journal op-ed calling for the passing of HB129, which would give a tax credit to offset tolls paid by Kentucky residents who pay tolls to get to their Indiana workplaces.
Blank also said that TARC buses shouldn’t have to pay tolls.
Finally, Blank said the tunnel proposed for the East End Bridge is not going to be safe if it only allows for 2-foot-wide shoulders.
Here’s Insider’s exclusive video from the most interesting 8 minutes of the 20 minute hearing on three-quarters of a billion dollars in bonds:
Last Tuesday we reported extensively on the role of availability payments in the financing of the East End Bridge, a funding mechanism which we understand is not available for Kentucky’s part of the project.
Also, we reported the bonds were not going to be issued on the downtown component of the project until 2015, about a year before its expected to be completed.
Well, some big wig must have read it because on Wednesday, KYTC spokesperson Chuck Wolfe emailed us over this correction:
I have learned that I gave you outdated information about when Kentucky would sell toll revenue bonds. The Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority will be selling bonds this year – exact timing to be determined – and the necessary traffic revenue study is under way. I apologize for the error. I did not realize the schedule had been changed
Insider: Do you know who is doing the necessary traffic revenue study?
(That was last Wednesday.)So, we wait.