News and Tribune

April 24, 2010

TRIBUNE EDITORIAL: Bridges plan not worth any cost

>>SOUTHERN INDIANA — Ask a motorist stuck in afternoon heat on a vibrating Kennedy Bridge as 18-wheelers zoom by if they are willing to pay a toll to cross that bridge every day and chances are they would pay whatever amount you ask. Local drivers are tired of gridlock and ready for action.

But like Mom used to ask us: “If your friend jumped off [insert local name here] bridge, would you do it too?” The moral of her pointedness was to stop and think before doing something drastic.

The Tribune unreservedly supports a new bridge in the Louisville metro area to accommodate traffic, safety and commerce. The proposed East End Bridge  connecting Utica to Louisville has been a no-brainer for decades held up by political clout and it’s a shame it’s taken so long to get this far.

The question of the moment isn’t whether a new bridge, or bridges, should be built. It’s funding. Our concern is that the prolonged wait has conditioned the general population to be happy getting something built that we are willing to pay any price.

The current price tag for a revamped Spaghetti Junction in Louisville and two new bridges — one to be built next to the Kennedy Bridge and the East End span — has risen to $4.1 billion. Neither Indiana, or Kentucky have that kind of cash.

After years of required studies, plans and public input, a bistate commission including local leaders has been charged with finding a way to pay for the complete Ohio River Bridges Project and the options are limited to say the least.

When the first panic about suggested tolls set in last year, we took it in stride as possibly one segment of the population that would be upset no matter what the cost.

However, the current consideration of adding tolls to all existing bridges is an idea we can’t support even if it means a smaller or delayed construction project.

Utilizing a toll on the Sherman Minton or Clark Memorial Bridge in Jeffersonville to help pay for the proposed new bridges is not the answer for the integrity and future of our community. Would the benefit of another bridge or two in the metro area offset the damage to Floyd County that tolls could inflict on commuters and visitors using the Sherman Minton?

We feel the best option for our community is for a different approach: Concentrate on funding the East End Bridge while the rest of the project is reviewed. As the timeline of this project lengthens, so do the costs. So it seems counterintuitive to slow down. However, rushing will be even more costly.

While the East End Bridge is worked on let’s discuss how the remaining parts of the plan can be modified or pared to implement a 21st century-worthy plan that doesn’t heap more vehicles and concrete on our landscape. We support the concept of a greener economy as a nation and we hope our region can lead the way with innovation such as enhanced public transportation. (Instead of letting the current regional transit authority cut service.) Many ideas and options are more feasible now than they were when this project began.

Will changing parts of the plan set us back at the beginning of the arduous government approval process? There’s quite a bit of debate and rhetoric over that and it’s hard to answer definitively without specific changes. However, evidence and examples (such as St. Louis’ new interstate bridge crossing) seem to support the idea that we can proceed on building the East End bridge while evaluating and reconsidering the downtown plans. Doing so should not jeopardize the entire project and maybe no other options would even be chosen. But let’s evaluate.

If limited tolling and new studies place the Spaghetti Junction and downtown bridge plans at risk, then let’s cross that bridge.

The Tribune editorial board: Steve Kozarovich, publisher & executive editor; Chris Morris,region editor; Mary Tuttle,  display advertising manager; Nina Fulda-Portman, business manager