Soon the Kentucky state legislature will be asked to ratify the financial plan for the Louisville-Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville.
This plan will stress the state's finances for decades, provide nothing for the non-driving population of the region and increase our dependence on oil at a time in history when such dependence is economic suicide.
Sometimes, to solve problems, we need to think outside the box. This is certainly true if we hope to redesign the bridges project to address the realities of this century.
First, let's rename it. It is not by chance that the federal government chose "bridges" for the name. This was the objective from day one, and it required quite a bit of manipulation and outright deception to arrive at the preferred alternative.
Instead, let's call it the "Cross River Affordable, Sustainable, Mobility for Everyone Project." This would remove the assumption that new bridges are necessarily the answer and keep in focus what we really need to achieve for this to be an economic success:
Cross River: No one denies we need to improve cross river flow.
Affordable: Everyone realizes that the proposed project is absurdly expensive and likely to have an endless history of increasing toll prices.
Affordable means that we can afford to access, use and maintain whatever solution we come to. The current plan leaves out most poor people and all non-driving citizen — contrary to federal guidelines.
Sustainable: Everyone is beginning to realize how expensive our highways are to maintain and how uncertain their financial future is.
The Federal Highway Trust Fund is broke. This project should be affordable now and later. Sustainability also suggests that we should be considering energy resources and climate impacts. The current plan totally ignores these issues.
Mobility for Everyone: A growing percentage of us can no longer drive. Proposals for tolls with rising energy prices and an aging population can only reduce the utility of highway bridges for growing numbers of citizens.
The bridges project is based on a purpose and need statement that ignores the needs of citizens. The purpose is to improve the movement of freight and to promote access — read promote sprawl — into rural lands in Clark County, Ind. Naturally this is a big favorite of our chamber of commerce, which is dominated by highway interests and developers.
But it will leave the citizens of our region with deteriorating local roads, declining transit services, disinvestment in the urban core and fewer resources to address the real mobility needs that confront us.
A 2003 review of the Transportation Cabinet by Dye Management warned against increasing Kentucky's debt load. This project does just that in a very big way.
We need to step back, consider both the needs and consequences, and start over with a better understanding of our real needs and actual resources.
The Dye review concluded that a way to get our transportation spending under control was to develop a statewide transportation vision. With the reality of energy prices confronting us, this would be a good time to do that.