Issue November 6, 2007

Representin': 8664 will have its day

A council committee will hear merits of the alternative plan to the Bridges Project. Does that mean it’s finally legit?
“The Metro Council certainly has the right to appoint a committee to study anything its wishes, but now is not the time to muddy the waters for the decision makers in both Frankfort and Washington who will bring this project to reality.”
 —Mayor Jerry Abramson, in a
statement released Wednesday, Oct. 31

In the spring of 2006, officials with the Ohio River Bridges Project announced that the 3rd Street ramp, which dispatches more than 2,000 cars a day from I-64 into downtown Louisville, would be closed permanently as part of the rebuilding of Spaghetti Junction. The change was significant, the result of heavy lobbying from folks interested in mitigating the aesthetic damage that expanding huge slabs of interstate over Waterfront Park would provide. Closing the 3rd Street ramp also required federal approval, as any big change to the Bridges Project would.

Shockingly, the entire project did not dissolve under the weight of a mid-stream change with some substance. That fact could be instructive to some city and business leaders in a huff over the latest and most pointed legitimatization of 8664, the proposed alternative to the Bridges Project that would remove the waterfront stretch of I-64 and replace it with a boulevard.

Last week, Metro Council president Rick Blackwell, D-12, and colleague Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, announced in a press conference at Waterfront Park the formation of a special committee to formally address the 8664 proposal. Joined by three other council members, 8664 co-founder Tyler Allen and a couple handfuls of supporters, the pair stressed that this was not an endorsement of the proposal but an answer to a citizen call for a serious look at 8664. Over 10,000 people receive regular e-mail updates through the 8664 Web site (www.8664.org).

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to provide a public forum (for 8664),” Ward-Pugh said. “My job is to see that the public gets a chance to see the proposal.”

It is, of course, unfortunate that the task of giving the public a proper forum to debate proposals to cure our impending downtown traffic disease has been left to: 1) A pair of businessmen spending their own time and bread on a long, surprisingly resilient grassroots effort; and 2) A special Metro Council committee sprouted some four years after the Record of Decision was issued on the current bridges plan.

Such a debate could’ve happened over two years ago, when Allen and J.C. Stites came forward with their intriguing proposal to help reinvigorate the waterfront and waste an urban planning mistake in one nicely packaged, progressive-sounding stroke of urban renewal. It could’ve happened eight years ago, a time when some project officials claim a study of a similar proposal was done and discarded. That supposed study, which no one involved has been able to produce, was conducted and rejected in a single day, a source close to the project at the time told me for a story some months ago.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for our city’s business and political leaders — who have rarely appeared so close-minded, brutish and reactionary as they do when confronted on this issue — to step back and reassess the political climate around the bridges. The Metro Council, on the initiative of Ward-Pugh (who will chair the committee), is actually responding to broad constituent concern that someone, somewhere, pull a head out of an ass and listen. Blackwell and Ward-Pugh should be celebrated for that.

Meanwhile, Mayor Abramson — who learned of this not a moment before the media last week — issued a three-paragraph statement complete with an oft-used red herring of the bridges debate: Talking about alternatives now will “muddy the waters.” He’s afraid that Frankfort lawmakers and the Feds will look at community dissent as an indictment of the plan for which we’re asking money, and the project will dissolve. Hard to believe someone so confident in the $4.1 billion plan and its partners would think the whole thing could fall apart because of a council committee. Right?

The committee’s first meeting is Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. in City Hall. Contact the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com