January 12, 2006

In 2006, some love for 8664, new faces in LEO and exciting possibilities in the 3rd District

by Cary Stemle

In Southern Indiana where I live, when the topics turn to bridges, folks are certain there’s been a concerted effort to resist building that missing and quite logical new way across the Ohio River in the East End. All they have to do is look across the water from the Clark Maritime Center in Jeffersonville to confirm their notion that it is, as usual, about who has the money. It was a sort of joke Hoosiers would tell ourselves for the longest time — that bridge will never be built because those rich folks won’t allow it. Ha ha ha, bitter irony.

The joke’s still out there, even though the discussion that got it started so long ago has shifted. These days, engineers and consultants are actually talking about bridge design, as if something is imminent. It is, and it isn’t, imminent, however; these sorts of things are based on an intricate mix of current realities, which are often murky at best, and those in a time far from now, where nothing much is certain at all.

Still, the game must commence now to hit some timeline 15 or 20 years into the future, and so the clock does seem to be ticking. There’s a sense of no going back. That is an understandable but dangerous way to think.

Dangerous because large magnitude bad decisions now may not be reparable later. A community’s sustainability is at stake. Have you seen the projections that show how it will look if a third bridge is built downtown? It’s hideous. Dangerous because a city where no one can live could slowly die. Don’t laugh; it happens.

You may have heard of Tyler Allen. His business, USA Image Technologies, makes those large murals of famous Louisvillians that you see hanging on tall buildings downtown. In the last several months, Allen has put his business life on hold to head up what’s been dubbed the “8664” movement.

8664 is a big idea. It would get rid of a 1.8-mile portion of I-64 — take it down — from I-65 to 16th Street. It calls for surface roads — a boulevard between those points — to move east-west traffic through downtown along the river. I-265, now a short interstate highway between I-64 and I-65 in Indiana, would become that portion of I-64 that carries drivers from east of Spaghetti Junction to the Indiana section of I-64. The easternmost segment of the current I-265, which now ends at the Clark Maritime Center, would continue across the same bridge that’s planned under the current two-bridge solution.
The net effect of 8664, the jewel in the crown, is all that Ohio River waterfront that you can now only imagine, opening wide like Lakeshore Drive in Chicago.

The plan faces an uphill fight. Foremost, it is strange — Louisville just doesn’t make pronounced changes from outside of conventional wisdom. The powers-that-be may privately tell Mr. Allen what a neat plan he has, but publicly they’ll stay silent or, increasingly, rebuke him. Their rationale is that even if the two-bridge solution is flawed, it’s a bird in the hand. To stop and rethink it now in any way whatsoever, regardless how grand, risks losing the leverage that came so very hard. This motion could die for lack of a second.
But I am not so sure. The idea has an energy, a support among a set of thirtysomething natives who’ve lived in progressive places like Portland and San Francisco. It has the whiff of a get-with-the-program or get-run-over idea. It has a central proponent, Tyler Allen, who is not some do-gooding nobody. Tyler Allen emanates from the East End establishment.

And he quite well could represent a tipping point, the time when Louisville finally grasped how to build a city that people want to live in, where young folks who aren’t seeking the austere bohemian life don’t have to move to other cities to make a go. A place where people may actually choose to move. A place so bold that the chamber of commerce won’t even need a PR effort to score tons of media about this Podunk city that can’t agree whether it’s Southern or Midwestern but decided to do something innovative anyway.

Perhaps, you say, this idea would not work from an engineering standpoint. That is failing to see the forest for the trees. Focus on the goal. Recall that John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. He didn’t have it all mapped out in his head, but he asked the question and challenged the bright folks to get it done. And they did. Does Louisville lack such bright folks?

Personally, I am somewhat traditional. I have misgivings about development in natural areas, and so I haven’t always shared my Hoosier brethren’s zeal for an East End bridge. I don’t want more sprawl like, say, what happened in suburban Indianapolis over the last 10-15 years — an endless loop highway lined by the back sides of strip malls. When Caesars went in on Hwy. 111 eight years ago, I had no moral objection. But I was sick about the idea of that gaudy development in that pristine rural landscape.

But some risks are worth taking, like examining how you look at transportation issues in your own community. And there comes a time when that one thing that holds back a community must stand down for a closer look. This appears to be such a time.

But it’s a tall order. The amorphous and largely opaque monolith that has always run the city is still entrenched. The two-bridge solution was a political compromise, and plenty of people believe that when push comes to shove and money gets short, the first and only bridge that ever gets built will be downtown.

There are also people who will say, point blank, that any group that purports to support the river must, if intellectual honesty means a damn thing, acknowledge that opening up a couple miles of the Ohio River in the middle of the city is a prospect that at the least deserves an honest look.

There’s no indication yet that this will occur. So it’s time to start a movement. Go to www.8664.org and check it out. If it seems really obvious to you, let somebody know. The future may depend on it.
•••
With this issue, LEO is making a couple moves while contemplating someone else’s big one.

The author of this week’s cover story, Billy Reed, is a name you either know very well or not at all, depending on your vintage. For me growing up, I always thought it was cool that a guy from Louisville was writing for Sports Illustrated, even if they called him William F. Reed.

At any rate, Billy Reed has assumed a new role with LEO, as a sort of senior staff writer/mentor. Look for him to weigh in on current events and media and politics and, yes, sports, and to impart an overall wise-assed point of view about life in general. We’re looking to his long experience in the writing business to push us hard in the right direction. Billy introduces himself better than I ever could in the column to the right.

The next important matter concerns politics and cyberspace. Specifically, a new voice in LEO whose political writings have thus far existed only in the blogosphere. Mark Nickolas, a former Democratic insider, decided last year that he could create a viable Web site focused on writing about state politics.

He led the charge into looking at questionable campaign finance and ethics matters involving Chief Justice Joseph Lambert of the Kentucky Supreme Court, which has led to an ongoing criminal investigation by prosecutors before a federal grand jury. Nickolas also single-handedly began the “Draft Ken Lucas” movement, hoping to lure former U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas out of retirement to challenge Geoff Davis, one of the Republicans who questioned the patriotism of Rep. John Murtha and other Democrats who questioned the president’s Iraq War policy. Lucas hasn’t committed but most insiders are optimistic that he will.

Nickolas is an avowed Democrat, so you can expect some of the expected. But he’s really pushing for something like good government, and we’re pretty sure he’ll call it like he sees it, even if it’s his homies. Mark’s introductory column appears on page 11.
Finally, more politics and some speculation. You may have heard rumors of a John Yarmuth run for the 3rd District congressional seat currently held by Anne Northup. Certainly people have asked me about it.

Obviously, I’m not privy to official machinations. I can tell you this. I share an office wall with John Yarmuth. The walls don’t go all the way to the ceiling. I see the gleam in his eye lately. Which is to say, if you asked a Magic 8 Ball whether he’s running, I believe the answer would be, “It is decidedly so.” And I think it’s going to be one hell of a year in the 3rd District.

Contact the writer at
cstemle@leoweekly.com