Bridges Authority Unlikely To Curb Opposition

The bi-state authority appointed to oversee the long-debated Ohio River Bridges Project is set to begin meeting this month. The fourteen-member panel, with seven member each from Kentucky and Indiana, is committed to building spans in downtown Louisville and eastern Jefferson County and a reworking of Spaghetti Junction, now with an estimated cost of more than $4 billion. Opposition groups, however, are committed to fighting the project. They favor some variation of the current plan, and say the formation of an authority isn’t going to silence them.

One of the most vocal opponents in Metro Government of the two bridges plan is Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh. She also opposes the mayor’s four appointments to the authority because they do not include any council members. She says the public should have a representative on the panel .

“We don’t vote on anything. We don’t get to deliberate on anything,” she says. “Their recommendation goes to Frankfort, and we have no vote in Frankfort, other than our elected officials.”

Even though the authority will have public meetings, Ward-Pugh wants citizens to have a more direct voice in the project. She says two bridges are unnecessary and too expensive, and predicts that will eventually become clear to others.

“Once we move forward building the east-end bridge as is slated to be built first, this community and the leaders now who are for two bridges will understand clearly why we just need one East-End bridge and we’ll have time to try it on for size and see what works,” she says.

Ward-Pugh’s plan is similar to the one put forward by the group 8664. It proposes only an east-end bridge and a new parkway in place of interstate 64 downtown. 8664 leaders say they will remain committed to their plan as the authority begins its work. And then there’s the conservation group River Fields, which has its own ideas about bridge location.

“River Fields isn’t in favor of massive concrete projects at all, but is aware of the purpose and need of this project,” says River Fields’ attorney Bob Griffith.

Griffith says the current plan for two bridges is outdated and ignores modern public transportation. A fresh study, Griffith says, would recommend improved public transit, a reduced Spaghetti Junction and, if needed, a downtown bridge but no east-end bridge. He says River Fields is calling for the current plans to be re-examined and has taken the matter to court.

“River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have filed a lawsuit which challenges the environmental impact statement and ask that it be re-opened for further study,” he says.

“The basic project has been studied enough,” says Joe Reagan, president of Greater Louisville Inc, the chamber of commerce, and a member of the bi-state authority. He says more research won’t reveal anything new.

“This is what has been studied and it has been determined. And it is a system. And the system works if you work the system. If you try to cherry-pick and say we’re only going to build half the project, it doesn’t work,” he says.

Reagan says there have been enough delays in the project and he’s confident a two bridges solution will move forward once the authority begins meeting. He’s not yet sure what will be discussed initially, but finding a financing mechanism will be among the top agenda items.

While the authority was formed to transcend political pressure and speed up the bridges’ construction, it’s clear that every decision will face challenges, as Ward-Pugh, 8664 and River Fields remain dedicated to their own visions for the bridges project.