9th St. Interchange & Wasted Land Beyond (BS File Photo)
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9th St. Interchange & Wasted Land Beyond (BS File Photo)
9th St. Interchange & Wasted Land Beyond. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Despite a reckless and unfair hearing at the Metro Council Transportation Committee last week, there’s still hope that the resolution sponsored by Tina Ward-Pugh and Tom Owen calling for public input in the soon to be named tolling authority will get a hearing, if at least only symbolic.

Last week, the Ward-Pugh / Owen resolution was defeated in committee after virtually no discussion. The opposing Kremer / Tandy resolution placing the Ohio River Bridges Project tolling authority on the fast track with no public scrutiny or input was passed after about 45 minutes of discussion.

After the rushed meeting, Tina Ward-Pugh was scratching her head wondering how a decision so fateful for the city can garner such little serious attention. She was shocked but not surprised, and plans to continue to fight for community input in the project that will define Louisville for generations.

The full Metro Council must now vote on the resolutions. Tina Ward-Pugh says there are Metro Council members willing to voice their opinion for public comment on the tolling authority. She expects 7 or 8 votes in favor of the Ward-Pugh / Owen resolution this week, a number that falls short of the fourteen votes needed to pass. The resolution’s wording, though, makes it clear what’s at stake:

If the Metro Council chooses to create the Bi-state Infrastructure Authority without establishing and executing its own fair and public process that ensures all citizens of this newly merged government understand the ORBP and its everlasting consequence to our community, it will be abdicating its responsibility to its constituents to an unelected, appointed body which will decide to impose what could be the largest tax increase in our city’s history.

Ward-Pugh will still hold public meetings, no matter what the outcome, to inform the public of what’s happening with the project. She remains optimistic that the best solution will emerge victorious in the end and hopes the public continues to pay attention as plans progress.

When the Kremer-Tandy resolution likely passes Metro Council this week, the Mayor will appoint four members to the bi-state tolling authority. The Ville-Voice speculates on the composition of the appointments:

We’re guessing David Tandy’s in line for that one. He sponsored the Council’s ordinance and pretty much goes along with the Mayor’s whims. And the Mayor can do him a big favor, perhaps, in his quest to become the city’s next Mayor. The other sponsor of the ordinance, Republican Kevin Kramer, isn’t likely to be Jerry’s pick.

You can guess that Abramson and Beshear will pack the authority with people who share their views, rather than a mix of people holding different opinions on the Bridges. This is why you can eliminate people like Tina Ward-Pugh of the Metro Council or 8664’s Tyler Allen, who would be most knowledgeable, from consideration.

Passage of the Kremer / Tandy tolling authority resolution is by no means the end of the road. Tina Ward-Pugh notes that the upcoming leadership change as we elect a new mayor is one major step and encourages all Louisville residents concerned with the future of the city to find a candidate willing to stand up for progressive transportation policy among other ideas.

When other cities are faced with massive $4+ Billion projects like out Bridges Project, their leadership and mainstream media take note. Here’s what the Baltimore Sun said about a widening project there (via Greater Greater Washington; note how different our local media’s approach has been):

No one can dispute that traffic in Montgomery County is bad, and in particular that Interstate 270 on many afternoons looks like the state’s longest parking lot. The State Highway Administration rates the southbound lanes as failing – meaning, traffic is stop-and-go – during the morning rush hour and the northbound lanes as failing during the afternoon rush hour. And the situation is only projected to get worse, with 20 percent more cars expected to be traveling on the main connector between the Washington Beltway and Frederick in the next 20 years.

But the plan being pushed by some business and political leaders in Montgomery County of adding express toll lanes to the road is the wrong idea. Not only would it be hugely expensive—potentially as much as $4.6 billion—but it would also run counter to virtually all of Maryland’s goals for environmental protection, community preservation and planned growth.

Even U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood noted that national transportation policy has worked too long to create sprawl and pollution:

Now, transportation plays a major role in creating the kinds of counties people want to live in; transportation policy can reduce dependence on private vehicles and foreign oil and promote a cleaner environment.

But for too long, federal policy has encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development. We intend to change that.

And for too long, federal transportation spending has mainly been driven by rigid formulas that divide highways from subways and commuter rail from ferries. We intend to change that.

Here’s part of the Ward-Pugh / Owen resolution listing “findings of fact.” Thanks to a Broken Sidewalk commenter and Louisville H & I who pointed this out. As is noted below, many circumstances have changed over the years and there are many new pieces of information that were never considered. We’ve pointed many of them out before, but here’s a sampling from the resolution (emphasis added):

WHEREAS, the Kentucky General Assembly granted to the Council the flexibility to modify an existing project as necessary due to changing circumstances; and
WHEREAS, the Ohio River Bridges Project (ORBP) is now estimated to cost $4.1 Billion; and
WHEREAS, it is now clear that the ORBP must be paid for primarily with tolls instead of by Federal and State road funds generated by taxes already being paid; and
WHEREAS it is not known how much tolls will cost or on which bridges they will be imposed, though it is likely they will be on all the bridges and not just newly constructed ones; and
WHEREAS, a study by Wilbur Smith and Associates released in February 2008 indicated that it might be necessary to toll existing bridges as well as new bridges at a rate of $3 per crossing to generate enough revenue to pay for the ORBP; and
WHEREAS, tolls will have a detrimental effect on “cross river mobility,” the stated purpose and need of the ORBP; and
WHEREAS, the ORBP will define the character of our city for generations; and
WHEREAS, State of Kentucky traffic counts indicate that traffic in Spaghetti Junction did not increase from 1992 to 2007; and
WHEREAS, in 2008 traffic volumes declined by more than 11% on the Kennedy Bridge and by more than 5% in Spaghetti Junction; and
WHEREAS, according to the Texas Transportation Institute 2009 Urban Mobility Report, congestion in Louisville “stayed relatively constant” over the decade from 1997 to 2007; and
WHEREAS, according to INRIX National Traffic Scorecard, in 2008 traffic congestion in Louisville decreased by 39%; and
WHEREAS, six years of actual traffic counts are now available to compare to the assumptions in the ORBP 2003 Environmental Impact Study; and
WHEREAS, the Brookings Institute’s 2000 Beyond Merger Report states that Louisville has built too many roads and an increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled translates into greater traffic congestion; and
WHEREAS, a November 2008 study conducted by Wilbur Smith and Associates for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) determined that an alternative which included only an East End Bridge provided the same “system wide performance” as the Ohio River Bridges Project; and
WHEREAS, the ORBP’s Environmental Impact Statement forecasts that the East End Bridge will provide for better “cross river mobility” than the more expensive Downtown Bridge; and
WHEREAS, River Fields has fought the construction of the East End Bridge for decades and threatened recently to “participate in the review that will be necessary to comply with environmental laws if tolls are chosen as part of the financial plan”; and
WHEREAS, a January 2008 poll demonstrated that residents of Louisville Jefferson County Metro would prioritize the construction of the East End Bridge by a 2-to-1 margin; and
WHEREAS, expanding the Kennedy Bridge Interchange to 23 lanes wide will have a detrimental effect on the real and perceived value of our historic downtown; and
WHEREAS, expanding Spaghetti Junction to 23 lanes wide will create major bottlenecks at hospital curve and the Cochran Tunnel; and
WHEREAS, the price of gas has doubled since the ORBP’s Record of Decision was established; and
WHEREAS, there is growing sentiment in our community to invest in public transit and other alternatives to the 2-bridge ORBP solution; and
WHEREAS, the maintenance of our existing bridges has become a grave concern; and
WHEREAS, according to the Brookings Institute, Louisville has the 5th worst carbon footprint per capita of any city in the US; and
WHEREAS, according to the Environmental Protection Agency Louisville is a Particulate Matter 2.5 non-attainment city; and
WHEREAS, Waterfront Park, over which the ORBP will increase the expressway width by 50%, has become such a valuable and treasured community asset; and
WHEREAS, research suggests that urban expressways have a detrimental impact on the surrounding neighborhood and whereas the expansion of the Kennedy Interchange would literally encroach on and likely destroy portions of historic Butchertown and Clifton neighborhoods; and
WHEREAS, as a result of the Kentucky General Assembly changing the ORBP from traditional funding to tolling, the existing Record of Decision will be opened for further review in accordance with Federal environmental law; and
WHEREAS, the ORBP predates our current Metro Government and has never been fully vetted by the newly elected leadership of our entire merged community; and
WHEREAS, thus, the community has not had an opportunity to learn about the scope of the project in a public forum; and
WHEREAS, the Metro Council—the local elected body of Louisville Metro—will have little or no say in the direction of the tolling authority once it has been created; and
WHEREAS, the Metro Council would, by its creation of the Bi-state Infrastructure Authority, relinquish all control that guarantees there is a fair and thorough process whereby all citizens of this newly merged government will be guaranteed a voice in the discussions and decisions made by such an authority; and
WHEREAS, if the Metro Council chooses to create the Bi-state Infrastructure Authority without establishing and executing its own fair and public process that ensures all citizens of this newly merged government understand the ORBP and its everlasting consequence to our community, it will be abdicating its responsibility to its constituents to an unelected, appointed body which will decide to impose what could be the largest tax increase in our city’s history.

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Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

2 COMMENTS

  1. nice picture at the top. if you can look past the highway (or imagine it gone) you see a HUGE amount of underutilized open land bracketed by two wonderful brick freight depot buildings. acres and acres of open land JUST west of the main street historic district, just sitting there!

  2. Like Tina Ward-Pugh, I also hope and will work for the best solution in the end: 1) An East End Bridge (sans the tunnel); 2) A radically reduced Downtown component to the ORBP (sans 2nd I-65 bridge); and 3) in a very perfect world, the replacement of I-64 at the waterfront with a grade-level parkway.

    Part of this effort will be finding a new mayor who will have what I call “Transportation Sanity” as part of his/her platform.

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