Issue March 13, 2007

Burning bridges: A state official has locked out local and federal leaders from a part of the Bridges Project planning.

8664: A state transportation official says it’ll be too costly to satisfy some wishes of the Waterfront Development Corp. when I-64 is widened over the park. That’s the same sort of “trust us” non-communication that’s been used on 8664 proponents. By the way, t
8664: A state transportation official says it’ll be too costly to satisfy some wishes of the Waterfront Development Corp. when I-64 is widened over the park. That’s the same sort of “trust us” non-communication that’s been used on 8664 proponents. By the way, t

Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it boys?
The irony is bitter and the karmic ramifications almost too rich to be true. But they are, of course, and a bold lesson about transparency and honesty seems to be unfurling itself.

A state highway commissioner is withholding plans from waterfront officials, members of Congress and Mayor Jerry Abramson about a stretch of I-64 — part of the proposed expansion of Spaghetti Junction — that will hang over Waterfront Park. That portion of highway is significant because it will serve as a giant concrete slab of shade for park-goers once the $4 billion Ohio River Bridges Project is finished, whenever that may be, and the aforementioned local and federal leaders would like to see that highway with as few — if any — support pillars spiked across the southern portion of the Great Lawn as possible.

Marc Williams is the state highway commissioner responsible for shutting out Waterfront Development Corp. director David Karem and his office, Mayor Abramson, Indiana Rep. Baron Hill and Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth from this part of the planning process. Williams said ideas the WDC favors — including raising I-64 up to 10 feet from where it is now and reducing the width from more than 90 feet to around 60 — would simply cost too much to be feasible.

“Quite honestly, some of the things the waterfront people would like to have done would be two to three times more expensive than what needs to be accomplished,” Williams told The Courier-Journal for a story that went online Monday night.

Just trust us, folks. You’ll have to come up with more money. We studied the thing and it won’t work. Don’t let it piss you off. It’s just reality. Now go about your business and let us do ours.
Sound familiar?

It should — it’s what Abramson and other local, state and federal officials have been saying about 8664 for the last two years, and now they’re complaining about the exact same tactics being used against them.

In January I conducted an interview with the Mayor to discuss his ideas and initiatives for 2007. When the conversation inevitably turned to the Bridges Project, he told me this: “I appreciate the idealism of the leadership of the initiative, and I appreciate the aesthetic aspect of what the beauty of connecting the city to the water’s edge would be without 64. But unfortunately, aesthetics can’t be the basis for my decision. … Right now, all

8664: A state transportation official says it’ll be too costly to satisfy some wishes of the Waterfront Development Corp. when I-64 is widened over the park. That’s the same sort of “trust us” non-communication that’s been used on 8664 proponents. By the way, t
8664: A state transportation official says it’ll be too costly to satisfy some wishes of the Waterfront Development Corp. when I-64 is widened over the park. That’s the same sort of “trust us” non-communication that’s been used on 8664 proponents. By the way, t

is doing is giving those who don’t want either bridge — that being some of our colleagues in Frankfort — an opportunity to question and ask whether this and that. It’s a wonderful idea, and it’s probably something that could have been discussed back in the ’50s when 64 was placed there.”

And that pretty much encapsulates the basic company line Abramson, Bridges Project officials and various others have offered about the forward-thinking initiative to remove part of I-64 along the waterfront and divert through-traffic to I-265 in Southern Indiana — in effect, to use an East End bridge to create a bypass around downtown. They’ve said, many times over, that they’ve studied a concept similar to 8664 and it won’t work, despite its aesthetic value. Yet no one has been able to provide any evidence that such a study exists. One Bridges Project official told me that the study, supposedly conducted in 1999, is “out of print.” Ridiculous.* John Carr, former deputy state highway engineer, told me last September that the “study” was actually conducted in a single day and that “it wasn’t in a lot of detail.” This is the same supposed “study” given equal weight to what produced the current plan, which took several years of extensive, intensive work. Not only ridiculous, but intellectually dishonest to boot.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Development Corp. quietly decided not to release a November 2005 white paper that found the concept behind 8664 to be something worth looking at. That report says such a plan could potentially meet the larger goals of the Bridges Project.

Why won’t city, state or federal leaders conduct a formal study of 8664? It would be too expensive. We’ve looked at it already. It won’t work. Just trust us. We can’t make such decisions based on aesthetics.
Sounds like that’s exactly what they’d like the state to do. It’s ugly being on the other side of that one, eh?
Last month in Washington, Rep. Yarmuth told me that if he, Rep. Hill and Mayor Abramson can’t devise a public-private partnership plan to fund the Bridges Project in the next six months — and thus get it built, with financing up front rather than a public trickle over 20-some years, in a fraction of the proposed timeframe — then the whole plan will be on the table again. (To be clear, he said this to restate the importance of figuring out financing quickly.)

“I think the whole model’s going to be different, and that’s why I think we need to make sure we do it; we know we can either get it done faster or we can’t, because if we can’t get it done faster we need to start thinking about what our needs are going to be 17 years from now, when there may be 10,000 people living downtown, probably will be,” he said.

Trust me. These highways will still be up in 17 years. And they’ll be crowded as all hell by then.

*If someone wants to share a copy of this “study,” send it to my attention at 640 S. Fourth Street, Suite 100, 40202.

Contact the writer at
sgeorge@leoweekly.com