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March 21, 2014

NASH: Bridging the gap in Indy and Frankfort

— A few weeks ago someone asked me a question that really made me ponder for a while. It was around the time the news from New Jersey was slowly coming out and Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridge-gate” scandal was the talk of the political world. I was asked if I believed it was possible that the closing of the Sherman Minton Bridge in 2011 was the result of some type of political retribution. Without any kind of evidence that this could have been some type of  “payback” my initial thought was no.

The bridge was shut down abruptly one Friday night in September 2011 when a crack was discovered during a routine inspection. After the entire bridge was evaluated, and other similar cracks were found it was determined that the bridge would remain closed until the repairs could be replaced. At some point it was announced that the initial crack could have dated back to when the bridge had been built.  

For the next five months commuters made due with one less way to get across the river. If you look back at the history of the Ohio River Bridges Project  it was about the same time that opinions on the subject started to turn a corner. It seems that from that point on fewer and fewer people were questioning the need for the two bridges plan. It also seems that the use of tolls to build the bridges became more palatable to people and many decided that they were inevitable.   

I can understand people’s desire to not be in that situation again. Local commuters were inconvenienced for several months and were at the mercy of those who were making decisions for the greater good. Now the two bridges project is well under way and there is no way to stop it, even if we wanted to.  

I remember the initial discussions of tolls as a way to pay for this project. Many people were up in arms about the original estimate of around $3 to cross the bridge. Members of the Bridges Authority were confused about where this number came from and said that there was no way that the final toll would be anywhere near that amount. There still hasn’t been anything “official” but they are working with the numbers between $2 to $4 per bridge crossing or as those authorities put it. “No where near $3.”

When I had questions about the toll rate the first people I thought of were my state legislators.  They were our representatives in Indianapolis and they were there to protect us.  People I know with similar ideas questioned our leaders about what they thought of the toll rate that were planned and if anything could be done about it. If our questions were answered, it was a  rambling statement about letting the issue play out before they could take a stand on the issues of tolls. I still don’t know what position some of our leaders have on tolls.

Earlier this week, in the Kentucky General Assembly, the “House” voted overwhelmingly against using tolls as a method of paying for replacing a bridge in Northern Kentucky. The bill has to be passed by the state Senate before it becomes official but even the possibilities is disconcerting.  Why is a bridge between Kentucky and Ohio getting different treatment than the bridge to Indiana?

Kentucky’s legislators seem to be looking out for their constituents in Northern Kentucky but where were they when the Louisville area needed some help? Why couldn’t someone down here propose a law forbidding the use of tolls, or at least got some type of discussion going on the subject? When I asked, our lawmakers remained silent.  

I know that in the state of Kentucky it has always been the Louisville Metro vs. the rest of the state.  The biggest city in Kentucky gets very little respect and is basically on its own when it comes to matters down in Frankfort. It seems we are being punished for that state’s inability to get along. Of course it looks like Southern Indiana is in the same boat when it comes to our leaders up in Indianapolis.

Over the next few months there will be some new developments in the Ohio River Bridges Project.  For several weeks we will have one less river crossing again when the Clark Memorial Bridge is shut down for several weeks. This will be the biggest inconvenience that Indiana drivers have had to endure as part of the  construction project and hopefully it goes well for everyone.

I would like to think that we can trust the people that we have elected to lead us, even if we don’t  agree with everything they do or say. I would hope that they make their decisions on the best interest of all of the residents of the state that the represent. When we are caught in the middle of the Louisville vs. Frankfort or Southern Indiana vs. Indianapolis argument no one in our region ever comes out on top.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

 

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