Appearing on 84 WHAS radio Thursday morning to discuss the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, former Congresswoman Anne Northup blamed the conservation group River Fields and incumbent Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., for the city’s inadequate infrastructure.
The Sherman Minton Bridge shut down last week after Indiana inspectors found a crack in the main load-bearing portion of the span. The sudden closure has rerouted thousands of motorist in the area and reignited calls for a span to be built in east Louisville to alleviate traffic congestion.
Northup specifically slammed River Fields for filing several lawsuits to obstruct the Ohio River Bridges Project—which calls for a downtown bridge, an East End bridge and reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction—from going forward.
“My leadership wasn’t about this is what I want. It was about what this community wants. And there was no one willing to step up to the very powerful people that were part of River Fields and say we are going to get this process back on track,” she says.
It is expected the repair or replacement of the 50-year-old span of Interstate 64 could take anywhere between three months to two years. Representatives with Kentucky’s federal delegation spoke with Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez in a conference call Wednesday, and there is significant uncertainty about the bridge’s future.
Northup also criticized Yarmuth, who defeated her in 2006 and again in 2008, for failing to push harder for the East End bridge. Polls have shown residents support a span in east Louisville span being built over other parts of the project, but Northup says momentum to build it was lost after Yarmuth took office.
“Basically John Yarmuth who was on (River Field’s) board all the way up until he was elected has said, ‘Well, there’s just no money.’ He completely ignores the leadership that we worked,” says Northup. “We put a coalition of people here in Jefferson County together all of whom had very close ties to whatever governor was in office. We said, we need to make this a priority.”
Northup was named to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission by President Obama two years ago and denied she was setting up another challenge against Yarmuth. However, 84 WHAS radio personality Mandy Connell quickly took to Twitter asking listeners if the GOP favorite should run again.
Reacting to the comments, Yarmuth told WFPL the lack of a finance plan is what’s holding up the bridges projects for the past several years and that Northup is misleading the public.
“Anne Northup is not being particularly accurate about describing the project. This was approved by two different states and a number of municipal governments that’s something we’ve all been working hard to bring to fruition,” he says. “When I was elected to Congress one of the first things I did was meet with then-Transporation Secretary Mary Peters, who basically said there was no money in the highway trust fund to pay for this project and we needed to look for alternative financing mechanisms.”
During the program, Northup claimed $775 million in state and federal funds was secured and put into a six year plan for the project during her tenure.
“Three months after I lost a state representative very closely aligned with John Yarmuth wrote an op-ed in our paper saying we shouldn’t build it. John Yarmuth said, ‘I don’t think they’ll be the money.’ The committee met and they quietely re-programmed all the money to other places in the state.”
Yarmuth says Northup is lying about the specifics and that no construction could have begun until a financing plan and very few people associated with the project know what the former GOP lawmaker is talking about.
“It’s pretty clear she hasn’t been paying close attention to what’s going on,” says Yarmuth. “She implied that she was somehow responsible for getting $700 million for the bridges. That’s total nonsense. That money never existed. She’s making that up. That money was not there. That was just a planning guide for how that comes into the state through the highway trust fund would be spent. That money can’t be spent until the finance plan is done. The idea that she is somehow responsible for getting that amount of money is fiction.”
WFPL requested comment from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for this story, but their spokesman was unavailable for comment.
As local, state and federal officials wait for the prognosis on what’s next for the Sherman Minton Bridge, more attention is being given to the need for another bridge option.
In a letter to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Humana, Inc. co-founder David Jones offered to lend $10 million toward the immediate construction of an East End bridge.