I strongly support the recent announcement by Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington and Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville to study ways to encourage regional economic development and cooperation between Lexington and Louisville. The corridor between Lexington and Louisville is one of the most important in the state in terms of economic growth potential, and this partnership will enhance that potential by exploring yet unconsidered options — particularly alternative transportation opportunities.
However, any proposal that excludes Northern Kentucky will unnecessarily limit the vision of the full range of growth and economic development potential that is available within the triangle formed by Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky.
Think outside the box by thinking within the triangle. Be bold. The sturdiest foundations are those supported by three legs. The two-legged approach currently under consideration would be made much stronger by including Northern Kentucky, and would provide a more stable foundation upon which to implement the study's recommendations.
The triangle metaphor is especially apt in this case because, like Lexington and Louisville, Northern Kentucky is a powerhouse in terms of economic importance to the state. It contains an international airport, manufacturing and industrial centers, NASCAR racing, the headquarters of major corporations such as Ashland Oil and Toyota, some of the largest and most modern hospitals in the state, a skilled work force and important institutions of higher learning such as Northern Kentucky University and Chase Law School.
Including Northern Kentucky to complete the points of the triangle makes sense geographically as well. Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky are approximately equidistant — each being separated by less than 100 miles. All three areas are connected by interstate highways and rail. Northern Kentucky and Louisville also share the Ohio River.
There is tremendous potential to provide new or enhanced transportation options along each leg of the triangle.
For example, a new passenger rail system or other innovative mass transit system could be built within existing railroad rights-of-way, or possibly within interstate highway corridors. These new systems could connect Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky and the communities along each side of the triangle.
This would facilitate and enhance greater accessibility and coordination between the manufacturing and technology centers and other economic generators along these three corridors. It would also provide more opportunities for job growth, attract new businesses, and expand recreational and tourism potential for this entire area.
Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky also share the obligation to ensure water quality and adequate supply of water for current and long term community needs.
Northern Kentucky and Louisville have been drawing their water from the Ohio River since the time of the earliest settlers. Lexington has access to water from a new facility on the Kentucky River in Owen County.
No sane plan for regional growth and economic development is possible without consideration of the impact of such activities on the water supply and water quality needs for residential, business, agricultural and recreational uses within the entire area.
Including Northern Kentucky in the study to develop a regional approach to economic development would bring additional communities and businesses into the discussion that have the resources and expertise to add more credibility and weight to the study and make it more likely to get it off the drawing board and into reality.
The idea of regional planning and economic development between Louisville and Lexington is not new. It has been discussed many times over the years. Now we have the opportunity to move this concept forward beyond mere dialogue.
I strongly believe that a regional approach to economic development is an idea whose time is ripe and overdue. Together we must make it happen.
Only with the inclusion of Northern Kentucky to study the triangle formed by the corridors connecting Lexington, Louisville and the Northern Kentucky area will we get a plan that not only looks good on paper, it actually works on the ground.
W. Terry McBrayer of Lexington is an attorney, lobbyist and former state lawmaker.