Joined by high-profiled supporters of the Ohio River Bridges Projects, members of the Louisville Metro Council pointed the finger at the conservation group River Fields for blocking the city’s infrastructure needs.
City lawmakers are rallying support for a resolution drafted Monday in reaction to the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, which was shut down September 9 after cracks were discovered in some load-bearing supports.
The non-binding measure calls for an expedited construction schedule of the $3.6 billion public works project and underscores the Sherman Minton closure as a reason to get it moving forward at a quicker pace. It criticizes River Fields, which has opposed an East End Bridge mainly for environmental reasons, asking the organization to cease all legal actions that it alleges are delaying the project.
Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, says constituents in her district have been affected by the Sherman Minton being shut down and there is an urgent need for funding the area’s current and future infrastructure projects.
“The time for talk, delay and lawsuits is over, this debate over the years has lacked something that we now have, a serious, immediate and pressing need to move forward. That serious reason has now been presented to this community in dramatic fashion with the unexpected closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge for over a week now,” she says.
Councilman Robin Engel, R-22, who is an original co-sponsor of the resolution and chairs the transportation committee, publicly invited leaders with River Fields to testify before the panel to “hear their side of the story.”
A spokesperson for the conservation group was unavailable for comment.
The resolution has bi-partisan support on the council and several co-sponsors, but it added vocal public support Tuesday from project supporters, including Humana founder David Jones and former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson.
Jackson says the city has serious infrastructure needs now that the Sherman Minton is closed, and that it calls for national intervention from the White House.
Later this week, President Obama will visit the Brent Spence Bridge to highlight the country’s crumbling infrastructure needs, but many have urged Mr. Obama to visit Louisville as an example instead.
“We have a catastrophe in this community with the closing of the Sherman Minton Bridge. We don’t know how long it will be closed and we won’t know that for a couple of more weeks,” says Jackson. “But we have an opportunity and the opportunity is that the president is near, very near. And that the president, if he chooses, can put a shovel in the ground, declare an emergency and say we will build this East End Bridge and we will begin it now.”
The resolution also encourages local, state and federal officials to push harder for the $3.6 billion public works project. For the most part, elected officials have kept a united, bi-partisan front while remaining reticent about the Sherman Minton as inspectors continue to examine the 50-year-old span over the next two to three weeks.
The coalition behind the resolution kept that bi-partisan sentiment at the forefront, however, Jones criticized U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., for saying the local philanthropist was simplifying the issue by offer a $10 million loan to get the East End Bridge started.
Jones says Yarmuth called to apologize for the comment, but added the Louisville congressman hasn’t done enough to get the project going.
“I said, ‘John you’re right, that’s what leaders do.’ They focus, they simplify, they communicate and they inspire. And that’s what we need today,” says Jones. “And we don’t see that from our congressman. He needs to get off the fence. Come out four square for this, call the president and do his very best to help solve our problem today. If he doesn’t, I hope you all remember that at election time.”
Yarmuth’s office has released a timeline showing the congressman has been in constant contact with federal officials and has “done everything he can to push” Mr. Obama to visit the area.
Asked to respond to Jones’ assertion that he hasn’t done enough, Yarmuth released a statement defending his efforts to address the bridge’s closure.
“I know David thinks he is being helpful but right now all the leaders of the region of both parties are rightfully focused on the crisis we face with the Sherman Minton Bridge,” he says. “We have a ruptured artery in our community and that deserves our complete attention.”