By MATTHEW NASH
Over the years of writing this column one subject has been the focus of my opinion more than any other.
For years I have been passionate that the Ohio River Bridges Project was too big and the impact of tolls would be too great, particular for the citizens of Southern Indiana. I attended many meetings held by those who were put in charge of coming up with the plan to build the two bridges and read many of the reports that they released on the subject.
This week the tolling authority officially announced how much the tolls will be to cross the river. The numbers are basically what they have been saying for years meeting their goal of a $1 toll for frequent commuters and going up from there. There is still no clear definition of what a frequent commuter will be but it has been discussed that someone who crosses the bridge 40 times per month.
Over the years of writing opinions about the Bridges Project I have had many people try to discredit me. One of the members of the Ohio River Bridges Authority wrote to me and said that he saw “seven areas where the information you presented is not accurate.” He refused to point out which facts that I misrepresented and refused to talk about it in public. He also has been pretty quiet on the subject since saying he thought that tolls would turn out to be around a quarter and vowing to fight for any toll more than $1.
People who thought like I did were called “delusional” by the leader of the local Chamber of Commerce. He claimed that more traffic was in store for the metropolitan area in the future and we had to have more roads now to handle the traffic. Studies now show that there are fewer cars on the road today then when the two bridges project was first agreed.
Now that the bridge construction is in full swing and they have finally officially announced what the projected tolls will be, maybe it is time to start planning for our future. What will the impact be on the city and streets of New Albany? Will our current traffic design work for what is in store for us when tolls are added to cross the Kennedy Bridge and the new Downtown and East End bridges?
Some people say that a $1 toll would not be a hardship on people who cross the bridge. A co-worker of mine lives in Louisville and works in Clarksville. They work 10-hour shifts, 16 to 18 days a month, so he doesn’t fall under what would be their definition of frequent commuter. That would mean that he would pay the higher $2 toll, for 32-36 bridge crossings a month. That would put his annual toll to roughly $900 or about 3 percent of his salary for the year.
That is quite a toll for someone with a family especially in a climate where wages have remained stagnant for many years. There is also an automatic increase each year and a stipulation that they can increase if enough revenue is not collected. I think this will be a significant hardship.
It was reported that some of New Albany’s council members are concerned about what impact that traffic avoiding tolls might have on this city. A study to possibly convert some of our one-way streets to two way is being proposed.
One council member didn’t think that people would drive a few extra miles to avoid a $1 toll. Maybe the frequent commuters won’t but the casual commuter just might. What about those people who don’t take the time to buy their transponder or keep money in a prepaid account. Those non-frequent commuters will pay $2 to $4 for driving a car, or up to $12 for driving a semi-truck.
Another council member believes that the street grid works fine the way it is. He believes that changing the pattern will lead to more accidents. The current one way design is confusing to most people who don’t use our streets on a daily basis. I have witnessed several people driving the wrong way on one-way streets over the last few years. This will only get worse with more and more people who are unfamiliar with our streets driving up and down our roads trying to find a cheaper path to Kentucky.
If you don’t think that people will drive through the streets of New Albany to avoid paying $8-$24 for a round trip, then I have a bridge to sell you. It would be prudent to start preparing for the increased volume of traffic now. If we wait until our city’s streets are inundated by cars and semi trucks then we will only contribute to the growing congestion problem and we will have a harder time fixing it.
We have a history in New Albany of being reactive instead of proactive. Now is the time to act before it is too late and our streets are overwhelmed. The decision to build two bridges and pay for them with tolls is a decision we will be living with for a very long time. We can not afford to make the wrong decisions on how to combat the impact that tolls will have on this community.
— Matthew Nash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org