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Second Annual 8664 Public Forum at the Ali Center
Second Annual 8664 Public Forum at the Ali Center. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Today was a big day for the 8664.org effort. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet released its long delayed study of the 8664 proposal, and not surprisingly, the $50,000 study did not take the proposal seriously. If you’re signed up for the newsletter from 8664.org, you probably already read about the study’s release, and Tyler Allen and John Clay Stites are understandably upset but not too shocked:

If they [KYTC] had wanted to make a good faith attempt of assessing our plan, they would have contacted us to clarify the specifics of our alternative and/or accepted our offer to provide a transportation engineer to oversee the study. Instead they misrepresented our alternative.

Among the misconceptions in the state’s report are that 8664 proposes to elimination of the Cochran tunnels, divide the great lawn with its boulevard, and fails to address rehabilitation of the Kennedy Bridge. The report was called off last March at 93 percent completion and one week’s work left. At last week’s 8664 Forum, Tyler and J.C. predicted the study would come out just before the tolling authority discussions were to begin in the General Assembly in an effort to discredit the proposal. Look for the anti-8664 we-told-you-so’s to begin soon.

If you’re new to the entire 8664.org idea, and some people apparently still are, the proposal calls for realigning the elevated riverfront Interstate 64 around urban Louisville and downtown onto Interstate 265 and an East End Bridge. A surface level parkway along the riverfront would connect 22nd Street with a downsized Spaghetti Junction and free up dozens of acres of prime riverfront land for redevelopment. The 8664.org alternative costs about half the $4.1 Billion of the state-sponsored bridges project and would not require the use of tolls on the new bridge.

The KYTC traffic study suggests that a 23-lane interchange and 12-lane bridge in the middle of downtown will reduce pollution and emissions over a 4-lane parkway and 7-lane bridge. They also speculate that building a parkway will eat up any cost savings associated with removing the billion-dollar-junction despite a feasibility study by traffic engineer Walter Kulash that says otherwise. They continue that trading the highway for a parkway the highway will eliminate the ability for mass evacuation in case of emergency. Imagine trying to evacuate on a highway in the first place and the crippling congestion with no alternative routes that would exist there. Many of the detractors to 8664.org in the study remain hypothetical and the basic premises of the study perpetuate a highways-above-all-else mentality.

The original principles used to study the Bridges Project projected that in 2025–2030, suburban development and auto-traffic growth to continue at 1990s levels and a continued emptying out of population in the city’s urban cores. Gas prices were also projected to remain at a constant 1990s level. Ignored is what Walter Kulash and other experts call “evaporated traffic”, those low-value / discretionary trips that simply vanish when a highway disappears due to alternative route changes, more local options, or simply not driving at all. It doesn’t address, either, “induced traffic”, the generation of new auto-trips based on increased roadway capacity. Many reports on these issues can be found here.

It is widely accepted that removing a freeway will create a short-term capacity problem but over time can result in reduction of 25 percent of trips made. When the Embarcadero was torn down in San Francisco, the lack of congestion baffled traffic engineers whose models predicted gridlock. John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, explained at the 8664 Forum that roads inherently carry three purposes: movement, social activities, and economic activities. Highways can only handle movement. He noted that “success and congestion aren’t mutually exclusive” and that while highways and arterials have less accidents, they also have more fatalities. You’re less likely to crash, but if you do, you’ll likely die. “If someone tells you that highway building is going to help Louisville, they’re dead wrong.” Download the KYTC traffic study here [Warning: PDF].

The Bridges Project was featured in another just-released report as well. The national organization Friends of the Earth released their list of 27 Roads to Ruin, and River Fields managed to get the East End Bridge listed as a bad idea in favor of a downtown bridge and 23-lane Spaghetti Junction. The report recommends abandoning the East End Bridge and mouths concerns we’ve heard from River Fields before:

The eastern bridge threatens historic sites, historic neighborhoods, farmland, and small cities in the eastern Louisville metropolitan area. It would also trigger sprawl in Indiana by providing access to undeveloped areas that lack strong planning and zoning laws. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) is concerned about the impacts of the eastern bridge on historic family-owned farms, a rural river village, rare remains of lime kilns in Indiana, a nationally significant historic district of estates, and a state-designated scenic byway on the Kentucky side of the project area.

The East End Bridge threatens the gardens of a single house from the 1920s no one in Louisville has ever seen; and we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tunnel underneath it. While the Roads to Ruin report suggests the eastern bridge will threaten farmland and historic properties in the far-eastern county, the mega-junction downtown will destroy far more historic properties and vital urban connections in the heart of the city. It will cripple the prospects of a real, quality urban regeneration as it forces all interstate traffic through downtown and it will allow someone to walk for nearly six blocks perpetually under a widened Interstate 65 north of the Hospital Curve. The Roads to Ruin report claims a savings of $800 million by eliminating the East End Bridge and does not address the 8664.org proposal at all, which saves nearly $2 Billion. Read the entire report here [Warning: PDF].

If you’ve made it through that tirade, congratulations. You can see how important an issue we feel this is for Louisville and how it will shape the course of the city’s development for decades to come. We don’t want its importance to get swept under the rug of misinformation or frustration. We want Louisville to actively discuss the best solution to our transportation future and we’d appreciate local and state leadership on the issue before it’s too late. As was stated over and over by visiting experts at the 8664 Forum: if we’re going to spend so much money to build such a city-altering project, we’d better make sure it’s adding value to the city we want to live in.

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