On Saturday, a crowd of about 100 concerned but unfortunately regular, everyday citizens gathered in the cafeteria of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Butchertown to discuss alternatives to the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Despite the issue’s classic side effect of warding off any and all so-called first-tier mayoral candidates — thus diminishing the coverage of said issue within the mainstream press — the turnout was nonetheless strong, with a “crazy activist-to-normal person” ratio decidedly in favor of the latter, which was unexpected.
Organized by the non-profit Neighborhood Planning & Preservation, Inc., Saturday morning’s meeting consisted of a series of Powerpoint presentations illustrating different alternatives to the unwieldy ORBP: Steve Wiser’s “local access bridges” plan; JC Stites’ perennial favorite 8664; and an anti-toll primer delivered by the founders of the Say NO to Bridge Tolls Facebook group, Dan Borsch and Shawn Reilly. In addition, the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation had a few members present, including CART board member David Coyte, who briefly discussed a plan using light-rail to bridge the Louisville-Southern Indiana transportation gap (an idea that was ultimately axed by Mayor Jerry Abramson and then-3rd District Rep. Anne Northup).
In attendance were three mayoral hopefuls — Democratic candidates Shannon White and Tyler Allen, plus Independent Jackie “I probably cycle more than Tom Owen” Green — each of whom offered their own take on the mammoth public works project and the deleterious effects it will have on the community for generations to come. Also present was progressive District-9 candidate John “Free TARC!” Miller, who is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh.
Of all that was said and hashed out in the course of the meeting’s two hours, several truths became readily apparent, namely:
1. Regardless of the disparate alternatives and their respective merits, the group was unanimous in the view that tolls are without question the single worst thing that could come out of this project at the present moment; largely seen as a regressive tax that would charge people for use of existing infrastructure, any form of toll will most likely be met with extreme hostility from the city-at-large, prompting a kind of pitchfork-rage scenario that the Louisville-Southern Indiana Bridges Authority would be wise to avoid, if at all possible.
2. As one member of the audience, Ethel White, noted during the Q&A session, the tendency for any grassroots movement is to Balkanize itself into ever smaller contingencies, effectively siphoning their own potential momentum via factional infighting over whose idea is best. To their credit, Stites, Wiser and Coyte said that components of their plans can work in tandem with the other alternatives, and that they are more than willing to fall on an intellectual sword or two if it means just one iota of common sense can be injected into the current project.
3. Unfortunately, the 14-member Louisville-Southern Indiana Bridges Authority has made it perfectly clear that they don’t give a fuck what you, common sense, or anybody who isn’t already a member of their un-democratically elected panel thinks. Case in point: NPP President Martina Kunnecke said she invited members of the authority to participate in Saturday’s dialogue. Their response? “If 8664 is going to be there, and Steve Wiser is going to be there, then we definitely aren’t,” an authority spokesperson informed Ms. Kunnecke. How charming!
4. The best way for average people to influence the ORBP’s outcome is to attend the authority’s scheduled meetings, which are inconveniently held during the day when most interested parties are conveniently at work. Instead, Borsch and Reilly advocated staying connected via Facebook/e-mail to receive updates. Otherwise you’re more than welcome to join everyone else by watching the hideous project slowly destroy the city like a federally funded glacier.
In the context of The Great Mayoral Horse Race — which is rapidly mutating the minds of most Louisville media-types into the equivalent of shark chum — the lack of press coverage was, to put it bluntly, fucking disgusting (but not wholly unexpected). Here you had a collection of normal citizens attempting to have a stake in what is perhaps the single biggest issue facing the region in terms of dollars, immediate economic recovery impact and overarching quality-of-life ramifications, yet no one with a camera or a pen and notebook could be bothered to attend.
Interestingly, the media did show up at a mayoral forum held at the Nia Center that same day, wherein mayoral heavyweights Jim King, David Tandy, Greg Fischer and Hal Heiner spewed forth various platitudes about “economic development,” “life zones” and making Louisville a “destination city,” whatever the hell that means. The coverage of that West End-centric event greatly helped the mayoral front-runners push the meme that they are the most in touch with Louisville’s economic needs; that they “get” the poor, so they should “get” your vote. In that same piece, one finds that Allen, Green and White were also in attendance, but of course they were buried deep within the article’s nether regions, with Allen blathering about the bridges once again…
In reality the tacit but under-reported support of most mayoral front-runners for the ORBP makes them, in fact, the most out of touch when it comes to Louisville Metro’s most pressing economic concerns. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to understand that, for example, creating local access bridges a la Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky will drastically cut costs and construction time while also employing workers sooner rather than later, not to mention opening up neglected West End neighborhoods for economic development of the non-platitude variety. Or that a willingness to pay nearly four times more for any project exhibits either a complete lack of sound business acumen, self-serving ulterior motives or both.
What Allen, Green and (to a lesser extent) White understand that their better-polling peers do not is that the bridges project isn’t just about bridges: It encompasses more elements of mayoral purview than any of the other manufactured “issues” that have so far dominated this race. Therefore, candidates who are supporters of the current project are in effect supporting a diminished economic future for Louisville Metro, a royally fucked-up interstate expansion and, perhaps worst of all, the will of 14 douchebags at the expense of their future electorate whose taxes will be used to grease 30-years’ worth of eager, sweaty KTC palms.
(In Allen’s case, being pegged the “single-issue candidate” on the biggest issue in the race isn’t nearly as bad as the blogs would have it. However, since the Allen campaign cannot successfully articulate this fact beyond their core constituency is another matter altogether, one in which they should rectify ASAP (Are you reading this, Mr. Green?))
Also on Saturday, the governor’s mansion held a vapid “lights out” ceremony in an effort to paint the Beshear administration as eco-friendly as eco-friendly can possibly get. From a press release:
“Dimming the lights in our Capitol is a symbolic gesture that demonstrates state government’s continued commitment to increasing efficiency and decreasing our carbon footprint,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “I am proud of the great accomplishments Kentucky has made in the past few years in energy conservation measures, but we must all continue to adjust our habits and lifestyles to help protect our environment and lessen our energy dependence.”
You know what’s also symbolic? Throwing your gubernatorial weight behind a transportation boondoggle that will put more cars on top of more, increasingly expensive asphalt, thereby exacerbating Louisville’s 5th worst carbon footprint in the nation. This kind of negates the intended message of a stupid PR event like a light-dimming, but whatever: Hypocrisy is as hypocrisy does; nobody pays attention; your re-election is imminent.
In any event, the bridges authority will meet next on April 8th at Indiana University Southeast, which means they’ll be one step closer to putting tolls on the Gene Snyder – unless, of course, you have something to say about it.