To Build a Bridge:
A Historian-Planner’s Participant-Observer View of
The Ohio River Bridges Project at the Falls of the Ohio,
Carl E. Kramer, Ph.D.
Indiana University Southeast &
Presented at the
Twelfth National Conference on Planning History
October 27, 2007
Copyright © Carl E. Kramer 2012
On December 11, 1997, before a crowd of more than one hundred local and state officials and business and civic leaders gathered at Ashland Park, on the Ohio River bank in Clarksville, Indiana, Governors Frank O’Bannon of Indiana and Paul Patton of Kentucky signed an agreement to build two new bridges across the Ohio River between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana, and to rebuild Spaghetti Junction, the tangled interchange where Interstates 64, 65, and 71 join at the south end of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge in Louisville, which is a notorious traffic bottleneck for both sides of the river. With their signatures, the governors endorsed recommendations made a year earlier in the Ohio River Major Investment Study (ORMIS) prepared under the direction of the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA), the metropolitan planning organization. The agreement also committed the states to contribute $1 million each to fund a federally-mandated environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering studies. Upon completion of the environmental impact statement, the Federal Highway Administration authorized the Ohio River Bridges Project in September 2003.
While the Bridges Project planning process is ongoing, the critical event for this paper was the December 1997 signing ceremony, which brought a practical conclusion to a controversy which had raged for more than a decade over whether or where a new bridge or bridges should be built. Residents and community leaders in Clark and Floyd counties in southern Indiana almost unanimously favored an East End bridge to complete an interstate loop between I-265 northeast of Jeffersonville and the Gene Snyder Expressway (I-265) in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky. Most Louisville and Jefferson County residents, many business leaders, and a few public officials shared this position. Advocates argued that an East End span would relieve congestion and improve traffic safety on I-65, the major north-south artery through the Kentuckiana region; divert through trucks and other vehicles not bound for central Louisville from the Spaghetti Junction bottleneck; promote economic development by improving access to new industrial parks and businesses that depended on just-in-time delivery; reduce air pollution by dispersing traffic from downtown; and provide an alternative route for hazardous cargoes, which daily pass through “Hospital Curve,” a sharp bend in I-65 adjacent to the Louisville Medical Center.
Countering the East End bridge advocates was a coalition of eastern Jefferson Countians, primarily residents of upscale communities such as Prospect, Harrod’s Creek, and Glenview, and downtown development boosters, most of whom lived in the East End. Some opposed any bridge, primarily because of potential environmental damage to the Ohio River and the destruction of their neighborhoods and historic properties. But many who shared these concerns, particularly those with downtown interests, argued that an East End span would promote urban sprawl and insisted that the congestion problem should be solved at its source. They advocated a new bridge parallel to the Kennedy Bridge and reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction. As the controversy mounted, a cadre of local and state officials, many of whom coveted the campaign contributions of wealthy East Enders, lined up in support of a downtown bridge, threatening a stalemate that could block construction of any bridge at all.
This paper has two goals. The first goal is to explain the origins and development of the controversy and its ultimate resolution from my own perspective as a historian-planner who was directly involved in the process. My involvement began in the mid-1980s as a result of my frustration with traffic congestion caused by accidents and excess volume on I-65 and the Kennedy Bridge. During the early 1990s I became much more formally involved, first as a member of several Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce committees and subsequently as a local planning director directly involved in resolving the conflict.
Fulfilling the planner’s ethical obligation of full disclosure, I was from the outset and remain today an advocate of an East End bridge, and the implications of my bias will be clear as the narrative progresses. But even as I strenuously disagreed with the arguments of those who favored only a downtown bridge, I struggled to respect their views, and eventually realized that some of their points made sense, particularly when it became apparent that reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction would work only with a downtown span. Over time, others experienced a similar change of mind, and that process, based upon a combination of hard data and political pragmatism, served as the foundation for a compromise which ultimately produced a “two bridges, one project” solution.
My second goal is to encourage other planning historians and planner-historians to record “real world” experiences in which they have been involved. This goal reflects in part my study of the decision-making process in various public infrastructure projects in the Louisville region, dating back as far as the Louisville & Portland Canal in the early nineteenth century and as recent as downtown redevelopment projects of the 1970s and the 1980s.
But this goal also was inspired by an incident during the 1999 SACRPH Planning History Conference in Washington, D. C. After David Schuyler delivered his presidential address critiquing urban renewal in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I joined Israel Stollman, John W. Reps, and several others for drinks in the hotel lounge. Someone commented approvingly about the intensity of Schuyler’s critique. It was a comment we all could affirm. But Jack Reps, while granting the validity of Schuyler’s remarks, brought the question down to earth with the observation that he had been an urban renewal director during the same era and had led a similar program. In essence, he said, “we were following the conventional wisdom; we were doing what the experts considered the right thing to do” for the economic and social health of our cities.
Since I recently had been embroiled in the Ohio River Bridge controversy, Reps’ comment inspired the thought that we historian-planners who have had the opportunity to participate in such projects have a professional obligation to put our memories and understandings of the events on paper for future scholars. This paper is my response to that inspiration, and I hope my colleagues who have had similar opportunities will follow suit.
The earliest roots of the bridge controversy can be traced to 1958, when officials planning the interstate highway system in the Louisville area proposed a circumferential highway that would begin at I-64 northwest of New Albany, in Floyd County, interchange with I-65 north of Clarksville, and continue across the river into Louisville and connect with I-64 at the Watterson Expressway or I-71, which connects Louisville and Cincinnati. But since the focus was on I-65, the circumferential received little attention during the 1960s. But as development on both sides of the river proliferated and traffic on I-65 mounted, construction of the beltway began moving toward the top of the regional transportation agenda, especially after the 1969 Metropolitan Transportation Study recommended construction of I-265 betwen I-64 at New Albany and the Jefferson Freeway, a proposed outer belt from I-71 in eastern Jefferson County to Lower River Road in the southwestern part of the county.
Despite growing interest, progress on the beltway remained slow in Indiana, mainly because it hinged on completion of the Kentucky section, which had become mired in conflicts among state, county, and suburban officials. The project gained new impetus on the north side when Indiana University announced plans to move the burgeoning Indiana University Southeast campus from downtown Jeffersonville to the outskirts of New Albany in 1973. After years of planning, construction of the first phase of I-265, between I-64 and I-65, began in 1972 and was completed in September 1976.
But the Kentucky beltway remained dormant until 1981, when Representative Gene Snyder persuaded Congress to appropriate funds for the project. To honor his efforts, Senator Mitch McConnell convinced state officials to rename the Jefferson Freeway in Snyder’s honor. As the Snyder Freeway moved toward its 1987 completion, community leaders in Indiana began lobbying for an extension of I-265 eastward from I-65 and construction of an eastern bridge.
It was during the early 1980s that I developed an active interest in the East End bridge My motivation was both personal and professional. I had completed my doctorate in American urban history from the University of Toledo in December 1980 and aspired to an academic career. But with the market at its lowest ebb, and having financed my dissertation on urbanization in Louisville through a contract with the city’s Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission, I decided to build on that experience and established a public history consulting firm. I supplemented my income with teaching assignments at the University of Louisville Institute of Community Development, where I earned a master’s degree in 1972, and the undergraduate history program at Indiana University Southeast.
These experiences, along with a stint as a research planner with the Louisville and Jefferson County Planning Commission in 1971-1972 and involvement in various downtown revitalization and historic preservation activities, gave me an intimate knowledge of the city’s history and political culture. Many classmates, graduate students, and civic associates had leadership positions in local and state government, not-for-profit organizations, and business and professional firms. But I am a Clark County native, and when it came time to open my business, I stayed home, operating first from my widowed mother’s home in Sellersburg, about ten miles north of Louisville, and then from my Clarksville apartment after she remarried in January 1982.
Located near one of Clarksville’s busiest traffic arteries, about five blocks west of I-65, my new location seemed to offer easy access to Louisville, the adjoining cities of Jeffersonville and New Albany, and outlying communities on both sides of the Ohio River. But short distance did not always mean quick access. While I was inured to rush hour traffic on I-65, I was less familiar with the frequent midday accidents on the Kennedy Bridge, Spaghetti Junction, and Hospital Curve that shut down traffic in both directions, making it difficult not only to cross the river but to get to nearby appointments on the other side of the expressway. As a business owner and a planner, I became convinced that we needed an East End bridge that would provide an alternative route around the city and remove a substantial portion of through traffic, especially large trucks, from the Kennedy Bridge and Spaghetti Junction.
As I built my business, I also sought opportunities to broaden my civic and professional network. I joined the Clark County Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Jeffersonville, completed the Leadership Clark County program and joined its board, and served on several other not-for-profit boards. But perhaps my most important association relative to the bridge project began in August 1983 when I joined a small group of business and civic leaders who met for lunch every Saturday at a local hotel.
Dubbed “The Roundtable,” the group included Gary F. Tyler, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce; John R. Vissing, a local attorney, son of Jeffersonville mayor Richard L. Vissing, and a Democratic party activist; James P. Keith, executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau; his brother, Richard Keith, controller for Jim Beam Distilling Corporation at Clermont, Kentucky; Dr. James H. Becker, associate superintendent of the Greater Clark County Schools Corporation; David L. Robbins, vice chancellor for administrative affairs at Indiana University Southeast; Lewis W. Newlan, a commercial roofing contractor and Republican party activist; Robert Kissinger, a prominent local architect; and Sgt. David L. Kinder, public relations officer at the Indiana State Police Post in Sellersburg and a member of Governor Robert Orr’s security team.
We had no formal agenda. Collectively we represented both political parties, but with a heavy Democratic majority, and a broad range of civic organizations, with considerable overlap in membership. Our common bonds were friendship and an intense interest in civic affairs. Discussion invariably began with the week’s major local, regional, and state events, but common themes included politics, economic and community development, education, and transportation. We tended to “solve” similar problems week after week. But because of our overlapping positions in the community, our discussions generated ideas that bubbled into civic discourse.
By the mid-1980s the East End bridge concept was becoming an increasingly common topic of Roundtable discussion. A major impetus for this development occurred in November 1983, when businessman and National Football League official Dale L. Orem, a Republican, defeated five-term Democratic incumbent Richard Vissing in his bid for reelection as major of Jeffersonville. As a Democrat and friend of Roundtable member Jack Vissing, I worked in the mayor’s campaign. But Orem is my cousin, and after the election I offered my assistance in any way he could use it.
Upon taking office in 1994, Orem launched a vigorous campaign to build an East End bridge. As an NFL official he regularly visited every major American metropolis and encountered about every available mode of transportation. His experiences convinced him that Louisville’s lack of an outer belt hindered the development of Jeffersonville and the entire region. During his eight-year tenure he spoke on the issue to scores of civic and business organizations on both sides of the river and used his position as chair of the KIPDA Transportation Policy Committee, the region’s chief transportation planning body, to advance the concept.
As Orem became more vocal, the bridge became both a major topic of Saturday discussion and a subject of daily civic discourse. Gary Tyler, the local business community’s chief spokesman, and Jim Keith, his counterpart in the hospitality industry, made it a regular part of their lobbying agenda in Indianapolis. Lewis Newlan, a member of the city plan commission, lobbied state Representative Richard B. Wathen, a popular Republican in a strong Democratic district. Dave Kinder never discussed the issue with Governor Orr. But he often talked about it with Republican party activists, including Clark County Chairman Walter Schlosser, who accompanied Orr when he visited the area, and the content of those discussions invariably circulated through the Roundtable and back to Orr’s ears. Meanwhile, I advanced my education in transportation while serving as a consultant to Hoosier Valley Economic Opportunity Corporation, the regional community action agency, and provided historical insights on the development of the metropolitan interstate system, which I had studied as a consultant to the Louisville Landmarks Commission.
Public discussion in southern Indiana produced its first major step forward in 1987 when Representative Wathen convinced the General Assembly to fund an eastern bridge study. Conducted for the Indiana Department of Transportation by Bernardin, Lochmuller & Associates, the report concluded, “Even at the present time, many of the critical links in the Greater Louisville Expressway System are operating at less-than-adequate levels of service. . . . It is, therefore, recommended that the State of Indiana and the Commonwealth of Kentucky jointly advance this project.” For Hoosiers, the Bernardin, Lochmuller study was compelling testimony that our position was correct. But for many in Louisville, it crystalized a growing opposition that had been emerging from two distinct centers.
An early skeptic was Jerry E. Abramson, the charismatic mayor of Louisville, who feared that an East End bridge would siphon traffic from downtown Louisville. As a member of KIPDA’s board of directors and its Transportation Policy Committee, he opposed proposals by Mayor Orem to add an East End bridge to the agency’s long range transportation plan, required for federal funding of major metropolitan transportation improvements.
The most vocal source of opposition, however, was River Fields, Inc., an influential Ohio River conservation organization financed largely by affluent residents of eastern Jefferson county, notably the Brown family interests associated with Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation. Founded in 1959 by Louisville industrialist Archibald P. Cochran, River Fields’ mission is “to protect and preserve the natural, recreational, historical, and cultural resources of the Ohio River around Louisville on both sides of the river.” Since its inception, it has taken many initiatives to clean up the river and to prevent environmental degradation through irresponsible development. But it also displayed a penchant for opposing economic development efforts on the north bank, most notably the Clark Maritime Centre, located in Jeffersonville, which was opened in 1985 by the Indiana Port Commission.
In addition to their sincere concern for the river, many River Fields’ members and allies lived in or near any potential bridge path, and thus had an understandable concern for how such a project might affect their lives. But for many Hoosiers, River Fields’ opposition to the port had inflamed resentments over Louisville’s history of urban imperialism that dated to the debate over construction of a canal around the Falls of the Ohio in the early nineteenth century. Since many Indiana residents considered the eastern span vital to the success of the river port and to redevelopment of Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, a huge World War II-era defense facility located about two miles upstream, River Fields’ position provoked suspicion that a few powerful Kentuckians were attempting to derail economic growth in southern Indiana. It did not help that eastern bridge opponents often derided the port as a “white elephant” and smugly refused to recognize the mobility needs of northern and eastern Clark County residents who daily had to travel miles out of their way to plants and offices in eastern Louisville and Jefferson County. Spearheading the movement for the East End bridge was the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce (SICC), created in 1985 by the merger of the Clark and Floyd County chambers. First under Tyler, and then under Gregory Fitzloff, who succeeded him in 1988, the SICC forged a coalition of business, political, and civic leaders who employed the Bernardin-Lochmuller findings to support their argument that an eastern bridge would benefit not only southern Indiana but the entire metropolitan region.
Reinforcing the SICC’s position were three public opinion polls, which indicated that residents on both sides of the river strongly favored an East End span. In 1989 SICC sponsored a poll by the Louisville market research firm of Wilkerson & Associates. It interviewed 600 residents and reported that 79 percent of respondents preferred an eastern bridge. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of Hoosiers expressed that view, but 76 percent of all Jefferson County interviewees agreed, including 72 percent who lived in the potential bridge corridor. Surveys for the journal Business First and Kentuckians for Better Transportation, an industry advocacy group, produced similar results.
In February 1991 East End bridge advocates scored a major victory when Jefferson County Judge-Executive David L. Armstrong publicly endorsed the route during an address to SICC’s Regional Focus Forum on transportation. Observing that “we live in an area in which its very existence is a result of transportation,” Armstrong concluded that an East End bridge “simply makes sense.” Although his words reflected empathy for our position, he had his own rationale for agreeing with us. Armstrong was reared in Madison, Indiana, about forty miles upriver from Jeffersonville. He had played basketball for Madison High School, which took him to our local gymnasiums, and attended nearby Hanover College. His empathy for southern Indiana residents fostered a regional perspective that many of his Louisville political colleagues lacked.
Moreover, as Kentucky attorney general from 1984 to 1988, Armstrong had reviewed the construction contracts for the Gene Snyder Expressway. As he later explained, when I served as his oral historian, he knew that the Snyder was intended to connect with I-265 extension in Jeffersonville, and that to oppose the East End bridge as judge-executive would be to disavow the purpose of a major projects he had approved as attorney general.
Despite growing support for the eastern span, the terms of the debate remained largely unchanged between 1987 and 1991. My own role, however, began to evolve from informal observer to formal participant. This process coincided with the gradual decline of the Saturday Roundtable as a forum for discussion of community affairs. It began in 1988 when Tyler resigned as SICC president. During the next three years, other members experienced changes in their professional, business, and personal lives. By 1991 attendance was about half what it had been five years earlier, and by the end of 1992 the Roundtable was defunct.
Meanwhile, local business leaders were growing concerned about an antiquated land use planning system that fostered crazy-quilt development and hindered coordination of transportation and utility services. In early 1990 the SICC appointed a Regional Planning Committee chaired by Jeffersonville attorney Cecile Blau to study the planning needs of Clark and Floyd counties. Along with other business and professional people, I was one of several professional planners invited to serve. Over the next two years, we encouraged local officials to evaluate their comprehensive plans and development ordinances and to improve their planning capacities. Jeffersonville and Clark County hired professional planning directors and joined Clarksville, Sellersburg, and Charlestown in adopting new plans, zoning ordinances, and subdivision regulations.
The movement to update the Clark County Comprehensive Plan began in January 1991, when the Clark County Plan Commission appointed a citizens advisory committee to oversee the preparation of a new plan to replace a document that had not been significantly revised since its adoption in 1954. Blau chaired the committee and I was a member. We drafted a “policies, goals and objectives” plan that gave the plan commission considerable flexibility in making its decisions. Among its goals was Goal 4: “Assure that infrastructure facilities and amenities are sufficient to support Clark county’s long-term growth and development.” Objective 4B read: “Continue to support construction of a new bridge across the Ohio River from the I-265 extension to eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky.”
The plan was still in draft form in August when executive director Nancy Blacker resigned. A few days later, I received a telephone call from commission attorney David D. Nachand asking if I would be interested in the position. After consulting with the Roundtable and other politically astute friends, I agreed to an interview and accepted an offer about a week later. My primary responsibility over the next two months was to move the plan to adoption. After a few revisions, the plan commission approved it early October and the Clark County Board of Commissioners adopted it soon thereafter. Promotion of the East End bridge was now county policy, and I assumed a central role in advancing the goal. I did not have to wait long for my first official exercise of that responsibility.
In mid-1991 the bridge debate reached such an intensity that the Indiana Department of Transportation (InDOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KTC) agreed it was time to launch a study to determine if and where a bridge was needed. During the summer and fall, as InDOT and KTC considered consultants to conduct the study, antagonists on both sides of the issue stepped up their rhetoric. Mayor Orem suggested a route that, he believed, would cause a minimum of residential disruption on both sides of the Ohio. Residents of Utica, the upriver Indiana community most likely affected by an eastern bridge, expressed some anxiety about the route, but generally supported it. Likewise, River Fields executive director Amelia (Meme) Sweets Runyon and Brown-Forman president Owsley Brown II argued that a downtown bridge should be given greater consideration and Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson somewhat disingenuously claimed that he was about the only official on either side of the river who had an open mind.
By December KTC and InDOT had engaged American Engineering Company of Lexington, Kentucky, as the lead consultant and the states had appointed five representatives each to a joint Metropolitan Louisville Bridge Advisory Committee (MLBAC) to oversee it. The committee’s composition reflected the study’s political sensitivity and the degree to which advocates on both sides of the issue had lined up support on their behalf. Representing Indiana were state Representative James Bottorff of Jeffersonville; state Senator Kathy Smith of New Albany; W. Fred Hale, a prominent banker; Wayne Vance, assistant to U. S. Representative Lee H. Hamilton; and William Shrewsberry, a former Jeffersonville city councilman and senior aide to Governor Evan Bayh. All favored an eastern bridge.
Representing Kentucky were Louisville attorney C. Edward Glasscock, who chaired the committee; Mayor Abramson, Judge Armstrong; Jack Fish, director of Kentuckians for Better Transportation; and Meme Runyon of River Fields. Glasscock remained neutral; Abramson and Runyon preferred a downtown span; and Armstrong and Fish favored the eastern route. The balance for the eastern route was not lost on its opponents, who used it to raise issues of bias.
In addition to the MLBAC, various transportation and planning agencies and advocacy groups appointed representatives to a technical advisory committee (TAC), which reviewed the consultants’ work and iron out technical issues before presenting their plans to the MLBAC. As Clark County planning director, I served on the TAC along with county engineer Hyun T. Lee and Jeffersonville building commissioner William Gavin. Also on the committee, representing Kentuckians for Better Transportation, was Dale Orem, who in November 1991 lost his bid for reelection as mayor of Jeffersonville to Clark County treasurer Raymond J. Parker, a former city police chief and two-term county sheriff.
After years of debate, the public got its first formal opportunity to address the issue on December 11 and 12, when the MLBAC conducted hearings at Jeffersonville High School and the Commonwealth Convention Center in downtown Louisville. Over 500 people attended each hearing, with East End proponents dominating the Jeffersonville hearing while those favoring a downtown bridge held sway at the Louisville meeting. Advocates for both positions aired their views relative to mobility, congestion, economic development, safety and hazardous materials, and urban sprawl, but few original ideas emerged.
More noteworthy was the way in which River Fields flexed its muscle by mailing out seven thousand postcards and fliers while Indiana officials, including outgoing Mayor Orem and incoming Mayor Parker, announced their support for the East End bridge. Orem spoke for the “unity team,” pointing out that Louisville was the only metropolitan region of its size without an outer-loop highway system and that a bridge was needed in eastern Clark County to provide such a system. SICC president Greg Fitzloff called the existing transportation system an “economic development liability.” The Jeffersonville hearing was also my baptism of fire, as I represented the Clark County Plan Commission with a statement that the new comprehensive plan officially endorsed the East End bridge.
For the next year, formal work on the bridge study occurred behind the scenes, as the consultants digested public input, conducted traffic studies, developed alternative bridge corridors, and formulated cost projections for review by the TAC and the MLBAC. Meanwhile, advocates on all sides of the issue took measures to advance their cause, and the bridge issue became enmeshed in external community development efforts. Area planning directors and others in similar positions soon found ourselves involved in numerous committees and attending a succession of meetings to assure that our communities’ positions were fully represented.
In early 1992 the bridge emerged as an issue in the Goals for Greater Louisville campaign, a program to identify community-wide needs of the Louisville region, including Clark, Floyd, and Harrison counties in southern Indiana. I served on the professional advisory committee. About the same time, the SICC created a Bridge Strategy Committee, on which I served both as planning director and as a member of my consulting firm. Chaired by Cecile Blau, the Strategy Committee spearheaded the chamber’s “Build the Bridge” campaign for the remainder of the decade. It also worked closely with the chamber Transportation Committee, chaired by Michael Sodrel, president of a local trucking and charter coach company. My wife had represented my firm on that committee for about a year, but I replaced her after becoming planning director.
Meanwhile, I was appointed to the KIPDA Transportation Technical Coordinating Committee (TTCC), which works with the staff to prepare the metropolitan transportation plan. When the Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Louisville, and Jefferson County organized a 235-member committee to formulate the Falls of the Ohio Region Economic Development Strategy, I was appointed to the southern Indiana contingent. These committees addressed a variety of planning, economic development, and transportation issues that had implications for the bridge issue, and by the end of 1992 it was not uncommon for me to meet weekly with at least two such committees.
Although most bridge-related activity during 1992 occurred in committee meetings, the issue periodically returned to public attention. In early October River Fields announced that it had engaged the team of Wallace, Floyd Associates, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, and Cambridge Systematics of Boston to analyze Spaghetti Junction’s traffic woes and to recommend the ways it could be redesigned. Rather than attack River Fields for its initiative, KTC secretary Donald Kelly underplayed it by offering its cooperation, while Dale Orem remarked, “There is no consultant or engineer in his right mind that is going to tell you that fixing Spaghetti Junction is going to be less expensive than a new bridge.”
Meanwhile, both proponents and opponents of an East End bridge concentrated on getting out a favorable vote on the bridge issue in Goals for Greater Louisville’s pending citizen’s poll on issues facing the region. Proponents had successfully proposed Goal No. 7: “Build a bridge across the Ohio River, as soon as possible, to complete the eastern Gene Snyder Freeway corridor and to encourage interstate transportation and economic growth.” While activists on both sides expressed concerns about ballot stuffing, each side worked hard to get out the vote. Bridge Strategy Committee chair Cecile Blau sent a ballot to chamber members and asked them to give copies to employees, friends and family, and to “ask them to mark number ‘7' as important to the community and to you and your family.” River Fields and other opponents took a similar tack.
When balloting began, citizens were asked to vote on the five issues they considered most important to the community and the five which they considered most important to themselves and their families. Over 23,000 people cast ballots, and when they were counted, East End bridge advocates were pleased. Out of twenty-six choices, the bridge ranked third as a community priority and eighth as a personal-family priority. The balloting results were reinforced by a telephone survey in which the East End bridge ranked seventh on the priority list. While River Fields officials minimized the balloting, SICC president Fitzloff remarked that the outcome “verified that [the bridge] actually is a very high priority” and Blau added that “it shows that this is not a one-state concern.” Bekki Jo Schneider, a Louisville resident, Goals planning committee member, and operator of a dinner theater in Clarksville, may have offered the most apt comment: “I don’t think this is an Indiana-Kentucky debate. . . I think this is an East End Louisville vs. the community debate.” Her words soon proved prophetic.
As 1993 dawned, American Engineering its team began releasing preliminary findings and units of local government took measures that intensified the public debate. On January 6 Apogee Research and Quantum Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, reported preliminary findings that an East End bridge would generate more than 22,000 new jobs by 2010 by enabling new business to move in and allowing existing firms to expand. In contrast, a downtown bridge would create about 15,000 jobs. About a month later, the Jefferson County Fiscal Court, the county’s governing body, voted three to one to adopt the Goals for Greater Louisville balloting, including the votes on behalf of an eastern bridge. The negative vote came from Dr. Stephen Henry, who represented the East End. “This is not a case of ‘Not in my back yard,’” Henry insisted. “This is a case of moving along with something too quickly. . . . We need to wait until we have all the information.” The following day the Louisville Courier-Journal, whose editorial page had been fairly quiet on the issue, agreed with Henry and chastised Judge Armstrong and the other two commissioners for acting before the facts were in.
While East End bridge supporters embraced the Apogee-Quantum findings and lauded the Fiscal Court’s action, River Fields and other downtown bridge advocates seized on a preliminary origin-destination study by American Engineering which suggested that an East End bridge would have limited impact on traffic congestion on the Kennedy Bridge and at Spaghetti Junction. The authors of both studies cautioned against making definitive judgments based on preliminary results, but each side continued to interpret the findings to support its own position.
Release of the economic development and origin-destination studies coincided with the next round of public forums late February. As in the first round more than a year earlier, speakers touched on topics such as mobility, congestion, safety, air pollution, economic development, mass transit, and urban sprawl. Most provocative perhaps was the statement of Amelia Runyon, the nine-year-old daughter of River Fields executive director Meme Runyon and Courier-Journal opinion page editor Keith L. Runyon. “I don’t think we should have a bridge,” she remarked. “It’s going to go through a lot of peoples’ homes and a lot of peoples’ neighborhoods. I just think it’s really cruel.” Although there was nothing unusual about Miss Runyon’s words, her mere appearance validated the suspicions of many eastern bridge advocates that the newspaper’s editorial board was in league with River Fields. “It seems the Runyons have a lot to say about the bridge,” remarked a Jeffersonville Evening News editorial.
The Courier-Journal took pains to explain that Runyon did not participate in editorial discussions related to the bridge. For many in southern Indiana, the incident was one more expression of the Louisville power structure’s arrogance toward their Hoosier neighbors, an attitude reinforced by the fact that Meme Runyon is a member of the Brown family of the Brown-Forman distilling interests. But even to some Louisvillians, the tenor of the opposition’s message sounded an increasingly elitist tone.
The public forums were not the only venue for significant statements on the bridge issue. On February 22 three influential Louisville businessmen–George Fischer, president of Servend International, in Sellersburg, Indiana; George Kormanis, general manager of the Ford Truck Plant near the Gene Snyder Expressway; and Larry Jones, executive vice president of Jones Plastics and Engineering in eastern Jefferson County–announced their support for an East End bridge. Fischer, an ally of Judge Armstrong, observed, “If there was still any doubt that a bridge was needed, the Goals for Greater Louisville survey eliminated it. . . The city has spoken for a bridge.” Kormanis and Jones emphasized economic development, with the former noting that a planned expansion of the truck plant would add 1,700 additional workers, between 300 and 400 of whom would come from Indiana.
The next major development came in early June when KIPDA released a traffic-flow study for 2010 which indicated that a downtown bridge would reduce traffic on the Kennedy Bridge and at Spaghetti Junction far more dramatically than an eastern bridge. The study showed that volume on the Kennedy, which carried about 100,000 vehicles daily in 1993, would fall to about 66,300 and a companion span would carry about 64,400 in 2010. A bridge at the Gene Snyder, however, would carry about 53,000 vehicles, with a cloverleaf interchange on the Kentucky side. River Fields and other East End bridge opponents seized upon those numbers to support their position. “This is the information we have been waiting for,” Meme Runyon exclaimed. And Mayor Abramson formally embraced a downtown bridge.
But East End bridge advocates found little in the numbers to alarm us. To New Albany banker Fred Hale, a member of the MLBAC, it was obvious that another downtown bridge would reduce traffic on the Kennedy. “An idiot could figure that out,” he quipped. Unmentioned but obvious to any southern Indiana observer was that thousands of those 53,000 vehicles taking an eastern span would be driven by local people who would no longer need to drive miles out of their way to get to eastern Louisville and Jefferson County, neighboring Oldham and Shelby counties, or nearby cities such as Cincinnati, Frankfort, and Lexington. Congestion on the Kennedy was an important issue, but mobility and economic development were equally significant. From a long-term perspective, although few were willing to admit it at the time, KIPDA’s findings also sewed the seed for compromise, one based in the recognition that both East End and downtown bridges were necessary.
Although the comparative benefits of a downtown bridge and one completing the I-265 circle drew the most attention, the traffic-flow study also stimulated interest in a near eastern span to connect I-265 in Jeffersonville and the Watterson Expressway (I-264), Louisville’s inner belt. The study estimated that such a span would carry almost 46,000 vehicles while reducing volume on the Kennedy to 98,600 vehicles. No one embraced the idea, but public officials interviewed by the Courier-Journal seemed willing to keep an open mind. But River Fields’ Meme Runyon expressed concerns about environmental damage and doubts that it would significantly alleviate traffic on the Kennedy.
Two weeks after publication of the traffic-flow study, East End bridge advocates won a powerful endorsement when Grady Clay, former Courier-Journal real estate editor and ex-president of the American Society of Planning Officials. “I’ve been circling around this subject, . . . trying to find a gap, so I could dash through to the heart of the matter,” he mused in a Courier-Journal op-ed piece. “The object I’ve been circling was the map of my city. Most maps show the Great Circle Route of the future, the interstate circular highway. . . . The first thing you notice about this circle . . . is the gaps.” After waxing in his inimitable style about the magic of circles, he returned to the gaps in the interstate: “It’s not just a line on the map. It’s a circle, and it carries all the magic that’s hung round circles for thousands of years. And our discontents will be with us until–for better or for worse–we fill the gaps, complete the ring, close the magic circle and get on with metropolitan life.” Having known Clay for years and having reviewed two of his books for a regional journal, I was heartened by his endorsement, because I knew he was highly respected by our opponents and that he could have been equally as forceful from the opposite perspective.
The tenor of the debate remained much the same over the next few months, but I became more involved as my professional knowledge of the issues grew. In July 1993 I drafted and the Clark County Plan Commission adopted a resolution reiterating its support of the East End bridge. Referencing studies related to economic development, air pollution emissions, and mass transit as well as the damage a downtown bridge might inflict on downtown Jeffersonville, the resolution endorsed the route that would connect I-265 with the Gene Snyder and include a full interchange at U. S. Highway 42 near. The document also called upon KIPDA to include the route in its twenty-year metropolitan long-range transportation plan, required by the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).
The Plan Commission and I were not the only ones who shared those thoughts. In August the KIPDA Transportation Technical Coordinating Committee recommended major revisions in the transportation plan, after David Smith, Kentucky assistant state highway engineer advised that “there’s a need for an additional river crossing” and that both states “are going to come up with the money to build it.” Upon his motion, we directed the staff to rewrite several provisions that would combine recommendations for mass transit and a new bridge. Although the changes did not specify a bridge location, they did get the topic into the transportation plan for the first time, and in a fashion that met the federal requirement that the plan be financially constrained.
The Courier-Journal pounced the next day, August 20, implying in an editorial that Smith had rushed us into action before the facts were in. The same day, American Engineering released cost estimates for various river crossings, including a tunnel. But the estimates for the bridge options were so close that none emerged as a commanding favorite, and the tunnel was dismissed for excessive cost. In early September the KIPDA Transportation Policy Committee adopted the long-range transportation plan, including a new bridge, because both Indiana and Kentucky had agreed to fund it without using money controlled by ISTEA. Ten days later, the Courier-Journal belatedly published my letter to the editor criticizing its August 20 editorial for implying, in my words, “that [David] Smith had intimidated the Transportation [Technical] Coordinating Committee into accepting some kind of bridge option against its will.” I explained what had happened and why, including the fact that the transportation plan had to be submitted to the U. S. Department of Transportation by October 1, “which did not allow the luxury of waiting until all data are in, whether in regard to a bridge, light rail or any other popular transportation element.”
Momentum for a bridge somewhere mounted as 1993 moved to a close. In mid-October the Courier-Journal’s Bluegrass Poll found that 78 percent of adults in Jefferson, Clark, and Floyd counties favored a new bridge, with an eastern span between I-265 and the Gene Snyder out-polling either a downtown bridge or a near eastern bridge at the Watterson Expressway. Ten days later, Governors Evan Bayh of Indiana and Brereton Jones of Kentucky announced their commitment to a new bridge, confirming Smith’s remarks to the TTCC two months earlier.
From my perspective, the most important development occurred in late November when HNTB Corp, a subcontractor for American Engineering, reported that the only way to reduce traffic congestion significantly at Spaghetti Junction was to build a new downtown bridge. Downtown bridge advocates were ecstatic. One remarked, “It’s going to be real hard . . . to make a case for an eastern bridge.” But while HNTB concluded that the eastern route would provide modest relief for Kennedy traffic, it affirmed the corridor’s value as a bypass, providing an alternative route for hazardous materials and emergencies, spurring economic growth, and requiring the fewest construction relocations. Simply put, while HNTB’s report made a case for a downtown bridge, it did not undermine the case for an East End bridge.
After hearing HNTB’s presentation at the TAC meeting, I told Courier-Journal reporter Nina Walfoort that I agreed with the study’s findings that a new bridge was needed to correct traffic problems at Spaghetti Junction, but I added, “that doesn’t alleviate the need for a new bridge in the east.” I said I was convinced that two bridges were necessary and concluded that “I’d hate like the devil to see what kind of a mess we’d have building a bridge downtown without having a bridge to the east serving as a reliever.” Other TAC members were coming to the same conclusion. Among them was Adrian Freund, Jefferson County director of planning and environmental management. “One of the traps we get into and one of the reasons that this is so confusing is that the need is there for two bridges, and we are struggling to find the supporting evidence pointing to one bridge,” he remarked.
Although other TAC members, including Dale Orem, were beginning to favor a two-bridge solution, I felt a degree of apprehension about stepping out ahead of the crowd. Orem, Mayor Parker, and Jeffersonville business and civic leaders realized the damage inflicted upon downtown Jeffersonville by construction of the Kennedy Bridge and the nearby George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge, which opened in 1929, and they did not want to see a third bridge destroy more of the city’s historic fabric. I shared their concern. During the next few days, however, several community leaders whose opinion I valued privately supported my stance. My position gained further support on December 7 when a barge crashed into the Sherman Minton Bridge downstream at New Albany, closing it for several hours and reminding residents that toxic substance accidents on the bridges that could put them out of commission and require massive evacuations. The next day the Evening News opined: “We are flirting with disaster, and just a handful of rich people are holding up at least half of the solution. The Evening News believes strongly that we need to change the bridge dialogue to one involving two bridges, not just one. And we need to do so quickly.”
Meanwhile, as if to confirm Freund’s observation, the Downtown Development Corporation (DDC), a public-private agency that promotes business growth in Louisville’s central business district, hired Harvard University transportation expert John F. Kain to study the economic impact of rush-hour congestion at Spaghetti Junction. River Fields’ Meme Runyon praised the move as “very appropriate” and averred that her organization “has for almost a year now been very disappointed in the economic work that has been done.” Judge Armstrong questioned the study’s rationale, however, and reiterated that a bridge should be built in the East End to create jobs and relieve traffic downtown. “For the life of me, I don’t know how building an alternate route is going to do anything to hurt the downtown area,” he added.
During the first half of 1994, the debate became increasingly heated, as local, state, and federal officials on both sides of the Ohio began taking stands. In January Representative Lee Hamilton began lobbying the House Public Works and Transportation Committee for funding to build a new bridge. While his overtures did not specify a location, in mid-January he and Armstrong announced their support for an eastern corridor, and in a letter to committee chairman Norman Mineta, Hamilton asserted his commitment to building “a consensus position on the precise location of the bridge.” His letter drew immediate fire from Mayor Abramson, who criticized its timing and observed that studies so far had shown that a far eastern bridge would have a “minimum affect (sic) on reducing growing congestion on the Kennedy Bridge.”
Although the Courier-Journal refrained from making an endorsement, it signaled its sentiments in its reaction to the Hamilton-Armstrong statement. It was gentle on Hamilton, commenting that “from the Hoosier shore where Mr. Hamilton and his constituents sit, the case for an I-265 bridge is pretty clear.” The editorial also granted that there was “a powerful logic to building an upriver bridge. It could make the bi-state metro area a single economic community. And it could open a significant new transportation corridor for industrial distribution and supply,” an argument eastern bridge advocates had been making for a decade. But the editorial chided Armstrong for joining Hamilton before the MLBAC had finished its work and argued that an eastern bridge could delay Kennedy Bridge-Spaghetti Junction improvements, promote further urban sprawl, and detract from the continued revitalization of downtown.
Lines continued to harden during the next few months. In January, U. S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana endorsed an eastern bridge because it “will maximize economic development on both sides of the river.” His colleague Senator Dan Coats agreed. In mid-April, Professor Kain completed his study for the DDC. Conducted with the Boston firm of Carlisle, Fauth, Gaskins & O’Brien, Inc., Kain’s study reported that an eastern bride would benefit just 1 percent of area travelers during peak hours, but a downtown bridge would benefit 27 percent. It also concluded that a downtown bridge would save $4 million more than a near eastern bridge and $9 million more than a far eastern bridge, challenging findings of an earlier study that an eastern bride would save $59 million.
The response was predictable. After dancing around the issue for years, Abramson endorsed a downtown bridge in late April, and within days Kentucky U. S. Senators Wendell Ford, a Democrat, and Mitch McConnell, a Jefferson County Republican, added their approval. But East End bridge supporters found little in the report to alarm them. Orem agreed that a downtown bridge was necessary, but asserted that the eastern bridge should be built first, thus advancing the idea of a two-bridge solution while downtown advocates remained committed to one bridge. SICC Transportation Committee chair Mike Sodrel pronounced the study biased, noting its failure to list advantages of an eastern bridge. Lieutenant Governor Frank O’Bannon, a resident of nearby Corydon in Harrison County and an East End bridge supporter, feared that the inability of public officials to agree could delay the project. By mid-summer the only major officials who had not announced their positions were Governors Evan Bayh of Indiana and Brereton Jones of Kentucky, and it was commonly assumed that their private positions mirrored those of other key leaders in their respective states.
While public officials staked out positions, private sector organizations stepped up the heat on behalf of our respective positions, and I soon found myself in the thick of the battle. In January 1994 I had been elected chair of the KIPDA Transportation Technical Coordinating Committee. That position, combined with my involvement in the SICC Bridge Strategy and Transportation committees, expanded my role in the bridge policy debates. My first major task, for which I volunteered, was to critique the Kain Report for the Bridge Strategy Committee.
Although I am not an economist and have no training in statistics, my experience as a public relations consultant had taught me the importance of public perception. So I prepared an eighteen-point analysis that criticized the Kain study for bias in favor of a downtown bridge, selective use of traffic data, a bias for Louisville as opposed to the entire metropolitan area, failure to acknowledge the benefits of an eastern bridge for industries on both sides of the river, vagueness in its treatment of air pollution and prior economic development studies, and ignoring the hazardous material problem and impact on downtown Jeffersonville. I submitted the draft to Orem for his approval and then sent it with both our names to Bridge Strategy chair Cecile Blau in mid-May. SICC subsequently distributed it to state decision makers.
The Kain study critique was part of a larger public relations strategy to generate business, labor, and political support for an eastern bridge on both sides of the river, with the objective of influencing Governors Bayh and Jones. In mid-May “Build the I-265 Bridge” advertisements ran for a week during morning drive time and the noon segment of the Rush Limbaugh broadcast on Louisville’s largest radio station. An airplane pulled a banner with the message, “Build the I-265 Bridge” during a professional golf tournament, and labor union volunteers distributed a flyer that read “5000 were moved for the Airport but 5 can’t move for a Bridge?” at a press conference conducted by Governor Jones in Louisville. Invoking a growing class element in the controversy, the flyer alluded to the fact that Abramson had initiated the destruction of three working-class neighborhoods several years earlier to expand the Louisville International Airport–all in the name of economic development. The insinuation was that he refused to make the same case to affluent east-enders for a bridge through their neighborhoods. The public relations effort also expanded the family dimension of the bridge campaign, as its chief architect was Vernon Eswine, owner of a New Albany marketing firm, who is my second cousin and Orem’s third cousin.
The tenor of the debate grew increasingly heated during the summer, especially after the Courier-Journal endorsed a downtown span in early June. Affirming its “hope . . . that the most suitable location would become clear when a joint Indiana-Kentucky transportation was complete,” the paper said the study was complete and that “the best location for a new bridge is clear. A downtown location would be best for the whole region–for Indiana and for Kentucky.” Invoking downtown Louisville’s importance as a regional hub, the editorial dismissed the benefit of an eastern bridge for commuters to eastern Jefferson County and argued that Hoosiers would be best served by a downtown span since “fifteen percent of downtown Louisville’s workforce commutes from Indiana.” The editorial finally conceded that the region might need two bridges, but that was not cost effective. “A downtown bridge should be the first priority–that’s where the traffic is today. And tomorrow it will be even greater.”
The Courier tempered its rhetoric two weeks later, after Indiana reporter Mike Quinlan reviewed the damage inflicted on Jeffersonville by the Clark and Kennedy bridges and reported Mayor Parker’s concern that no one in Kentucky had considered the impact another span would have on his city of 25,000 residents. “We feel like the poor stepchild in the debate,” he remarked. Two days later, the Courier reaffirmed its previous judgment, but it conceded that “advocates of a downtown site . . . don’t seem to have given serious thought to the damage Jeffersonville will sustain if a six-lane interstate highway slices across an old part of the city.”
The most curious dimension of the Courier-Journal’s endorsement was its assertion that the final studies where in and that the Metropolitan Louisville Bridge Study had issued its final report. But that conclusion is debatable. Although the consultants apparently had completed their work, the MLBAC had not issued a recommendation, and several members argued that had a vote been taken, the committee would have recommended an eastern span. Meanwhile, the efforts by both sides to win a favorable decision from the governors began to bear fruit. In early August Governor Jones endorsed a downtown bridge and ordered the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to begin designing another I-65 bridge to parallel the Kennedy Bridge and making plans to overhaul Spaghetti Junction.
Bayh was not ready to endorse an eastern bridge and expressed hope for a compromise, but he agreed that an eastern span would boost economic development and refused to support a downtown bridge. With the governors on opposite poles, the issue was approaching a stalemate. The Courier-Journal did nothing to alleviate the tension when it called upon Hoosiers “to go to work on Gov. Evan Bayh” asserting that he was “still operating under the original but mistaken impression that only a bridge farther east will help Southern Indiana economically. And he also mistakenly thinks that nobody in Southern Indiana supports a downtown span.” In two sentences, the Courier-Journal displayed both monumental arrogance toward and woeful ignorance of its northern neighbor.
As the debate moved into the fall, the fear of stalemate was palpable. In mid-August the Clark County Board of Commissioners, one of the most conservative units of local government in the region, called for two bridges, suggesting that Indiana fund the state share of an eastern bridge and Kentucky, the downtown bridge, and stipulating that the eastern bridge be built first. But except for those of us who already had endorsed it, no one picked up on the idea. Meanwhile, both sides bickered about data, each suggesting that the other refused to recognize the objective evidence that supported its position. What was becoming increasingly clear is that each side had defined the problem differently, so the evidence in favor of its position did not support the other’s definition of the problem.
In October, controversy erupted over the Metropolitan Louisville Bridge Advisory Committee, which had gone out of business before issuing a final report. Chairman Glasscock argued that the MLBAC was not supposed to make a recommendation and said it no longer had a function since the governors had made up their minds. KTC Secretary Don Kelly agreed, but his Indiana counterpart, Fred P’Pool, disagreed as did most pro-eastern bridge committee members. Armstrong charged that the committee’s work was cut short because powerful interest in Frankfort opposed the eastern bridge. “Had a vote been taken,” he said, “we would have had a majority vote on the (Interstate) 265 crossing.” Despite the heated rhetoric, advocates on both sides urged that efforts to achieve a consensus compromise should continue.
To the chagrin of those frustrated by a seeming proliferation of studies, the prospective solution came in the form of a new one–a federally-mandated major investment study (MIS)–required by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. ISTEA required large federally-funded projects to undergo stringent financial and environmental analysis to assure that all possible alternatives were considered, including no-build options. It also stipulated that the studies be supervised by the federally-certified metropolitan planning organization (MPO)–KIPDA. The MIS requirement came to local attention in March 1994, but KIPDA transportation director Norman Nezelkewicz indicated that it need not begin until the MLBAC completed its work.
MLBAC’s slow death delayed initiation of the MIS until September, when the KIPDA Transportation Policy Committee and the Indiana and Kentucky Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) directors began laying plans for the study. An immediate issue was whether to conduct separate studies for each proposed bridge or a single study encompassing all options. Abramson favored two studies. But Kentucky FHWA administrator Glenn Jilek advised that we must examine “the problem of demand crossing the river” through a single study that evaluated not only the need for bridges but mass transit and alternatives not considered in previous studies.
While the TPC outlined the MIS, public officials and organizations such as River Fields and SICC strove to keep the issue in the public eye. In October River Fields finally unveiled Wallace, Floyd Associates’ plan for redesigning Spaghetti Junction, which it had commissioned more than a year earlier. Meanwhile, Lee Hamilton lined up financing for the MIS from funds he had obtained for bridge development the previous year.
The TPC addressed its task by creating the Ohio River Major Investment Study (ORMIS) committee as a subcommittee of the TTCC, with Nezelkewicz as moderator. He was neutral, but most other members already had a public position on topic. The committee’s composition generated much debate, as affected communities and interest groups jockeyed for a seat at the table. By March 1995 the ORMIS committee had been organized as a two-tier body, with a sixteen-member governing committee and an advisory committee. The former, which had voting authority, consisted of TTCC members whose agencies had planning and transportation responsibilities in the affected areas along with appointees of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Chambers of Commerce. The advisory committee was intended to assure that all interested parties had an opportunity to contribute to the planning process. The entire committee numbered over fifty members. As the Clark County Plan Commission’s representative, I was one of seven voting members from Indiana; six others represented Louisville and Jefferson County; and three, including Nezelkewicz, represented agencies with bi-state jurisdiction.
Few were totally satisfied with the committee’s composition. Some in eastern Jefferson County complained of excessive Indiana representation, and others feared that limiting the voting membership to sixteen would discourage advisory members from attending. During the months that followed, we revisited the membership composition, but kept the existing structure because enlarging the committee would make it unwieldy and deciding where to stop would be almost impossible. However, we usually conducted business as a committee of the whole, so attendance remained strong, and most decisions would be reached by consensus. Nevertheless, as the committee began its work, most voting members favored an eastern bridge; a few supported a downtown span; and a somewhat larger number, including the bi-state representatives, took a neutral stance. Freund and I were still the only members on record for two bridges.
The ORMIS committee began its first major task in April 1995 with consultant selection. On May 8, after seeking proposals from firms from throughout the nation, we interviewed the four responding teams–HNTB Corporation, of Kansas City, Kansas; Burgess & Niple Ltd., of Columbus, Ohio; JHK & Associates, of Alexandria, Virginia; and BRW Inc of Minneapolis. All were highly talented and made strong presentations. I was favorably impressed with both Burgess & Nipple and JHK, particularly their consensus building experience, but gave the edge to Burgess & Nipple. I was acquainted with some of the HNTB team and knew they were familiar with the area. But the owner of one of its local firms had chaired the SICC, and I feared its involvement would raise charges of bias. Moreover, while I had a friendly relationship with the firm, I doubted its subject matter skills. I expressed those feelings in post-interview discussions, which influenced other members of the selection team, irrespective of their position on the bridge issue. Although I favored Burgess & Nipple, the full committee JHK the highest score, and we ultimately offered them the contract. A major factor in JHK’s selection was its experience on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project in Washington, D. C., which resembled ours with respect to multiple jurisdictions and conflicting interests.
The next four months were a period of relative quiet, as KIPDA and JHK negotiated the details of the contract and the scope of work (SOW). Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope for compromise emerged in September when Governor Bayh and Mayor Abramson revealed that they had been talking privately and agreed on the need for two bridges. But they disagreed on which to build first. Bayh argued for an eastern span as an alternative route for traffic during construction of the downtown bridge; Abramson insisted that resolution of traffic problems at the Kennedy Bridge and Spaghetti Junction was the top priority and that effective management could keep traffic moving during construction of the downtown bridge. Nevertheless, their agreement on two bridges won applause from Louisville’s leading newspapers. Business First, which had endorsed two bridges in January, hailed the agreement as “the first real progress in the decades-old bridge debate.” The Courier-Journal commended both men for their “foresight and political bravery,” but it reiterated its skepticism of an eastern bridge, adding that its “primary impact . . . would be destructive sprawl on the Kentucky side, not healthy growth.
Meanwhile, on September 7 the ORMIS committee unanimously endorsed the MIS process and recommended that the Transportation Policy Committee and the KIPDA board of directors award a $525,000 contract to JHK & Associates. The KIPDA executive committee followed suit the same day. The full KIPDA board ratified the agreement on September 28, with the term of the contract to extend through November 15, 1996.
Once the contract was approved, the ORMIS process moved quickly and intensely. Work with the JHK team, headed by vice president Stephen Smith and project manager Dr. David Keever, began on October 8 with a full-day session that reviewed the project schedule and addressed major items of the scope of work–particularly consensus building and public outreach, operating rules, determination of the study area, data collection, and purpose and design of the committee’s first round of public workshops. As the committee prepared for the workshops, our main goal was to assure that they produced the broadest possible range of public opinions and generated ideas about the region’s transportation needs. We also hoped to assure all parties that their views would be heard and that we intended to take a fresh look at issues and alternatives which had been raised in previous studies.
One of our primary concerns, based upon experience with the MLBAC study, was to overcome the intimidation factor inherent in large “open microphone” meetings that tended to be dominated by organized interests with preconceived positions. To that end, we adopted a “county fair” format, suggested by JHK, which allowed participants to view displays of maps and other pertinent study materials, discuss their concerns with staff, consultants, and committee members as well as each other, provide written comments, and obtain background material to study at their leisure.
The initial workshops, conducted in December, generated their anticipated share of partisan commentary. SICC Transportation Committee chair Mike Sodrel observed that it was difficult to be negative in such an environment, but he added, “My fear is theat we are trying to achieve unanimity. . . . It isn’t possible.” Kentucky state Representative Bob DeWeese commented, “The biggest problem is Spaghetti Junction. If you don’t fix Spaghetti Junction, you won’t fix traffic in downtown.” More significant, 315 participants at both sets of workshops submitted nearly 1,020 concerns related to transportation, funding, economic development, environment, the study process, and other topics. Their responses, along with data collected in previous studies and additional research by the consultants, provide a rich collection for the next major task–preparing a purpose and needs statement (P&NS).
Drafting the P&NS proved the most difficult and most controversial task of the entire ORMIS process, because it required us to agree on a definition of the problem that encompassed the major objectives of the key stakeholders in the debate. As the process began, all agreed that congestion Kennedy Bridge-Spaghetti Junction congestion was part of the problem. For downtown bride proponents, it was the only problem.
But for East End bridge advocates, mobility and economic development were equal or greater problems. We frequently pointed out that a trip originating in northern or eastern Clark County and points north and bound for eastern Louisville and Jefferson County, Cincinnati, Lexington, and Charleston, had to travel into downtown Jeffersonville, cross the Kennedy bridge, and then double back onto I-71 or I-64, a distance of sixteen to eighteen miles per one-way trip from the outer belt in Clark County to the outer belt in Jefferson County. An eastern bridge would reduce that distance by about half to two-thirds, depending on whether a vehicle was bound for I-71 or I-64. Without an eastern bridge, that situation would continue, imposing significant time and monetary costs, especially for southern Indiana’s growing distribution industry and firms at the Clark Maritime Centre, River Ridge Commerce Center (former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant), and new industrial parks nearby.
In community development theory, a problem is an obstacle to an objective. For East End bridge advocates, improved mobility and economic development were major objectives, and a gap in the transportation system was an obstacle to those objective. Our challenge was achieve a P&NS that validated our objectives as well as those of the downtown bridge advocates. Simply put, it had to be both politically and technically feasible.
JHK initiated the P&NS process by collecting transportation plans and traffic studies, comprehensive land-use plans, historic resource inventories and preservation plans, economic and community development studies, and environmental reports prepared by or for virtually every major unit of government in the metropolitan area during the previous decade. The consultants then distilled each community’s goals and objectives that were relevant to the river crossing issue. They also reviewed the public comments collected at the December workshops and synthesized them with the findings of the literature reviews to identify the central issues and to develop criteria by which to evaluate “possible solutions [to] . . . the problems and needs identified.” Major topics identified included population trends, bridge traffic volume, metropolitan traffic patterns, mass transit, safety, economic costs and benefits, land use, economic and community development, air quality, and hazardous materials transport.
JHK issued a preliminary draft of the P&NS on January 24 and it went through five versions, each of which the committee critiqued in detail. Meanwhile, a another round of workshops in late February elicited additional public response to the P&NS process. As the process moved to completion, southern Indiana representatives raised three particular concerns–hazardous material transport, truck traffic data, and economic development.
In a mid-March draft, JHK minimized concerns about hazardous material spills in the “Hospital Curve” area, observing that “evacuations for highway-related hazmat spills [are] very rare.” Although we agreed that such incidents were rare, truck accidents were frequent, and some of us envisioned the day when a truck carrying hazardous materials might not just spill its load, but crash into one of the hospitals along I-65. Writing for of the Indiana delegation and the SICC Bridge Strategy Committee, I reiterated to Nezelkewicz and Steve Smith that an alternative route around Clark County’s heavily populated areas, including Jeffersonville, was necessary and that the western routes around New Albany and western Louisville were already “too heavily traveled to carry non-local hazmat traffic.”
Our concern about inconsistencies in JHK’s truck traffic data reflected both mobility and economic development objectives. Clark County was becoming a thriving distribution center, and most trucking firms were located near the intersection of I-65 and I-265, which was being extended to State Road 62 where Port Road provided access to the Clark Maritime Centre and nearby industrial parks. Operators realized that an eastern bridge would enable much of their business to bypass downtown. But solid origin and destination data were sketchy and difficult to collect. We were especially concerned that most data reflected peak-hour patterns, while many accidents that backed up traffic on I-65 occurred during midday. If it was available, we wanted more information on that issue.
Finally, we objected to the way the P&NS addressed economic development relative to transportation. It stated that various jurisdictions had “separate sets” of economic objectives, and that the region lacked a “clear regional economic and community development vision.” Although that statement was essentially true, we feared its wording could be construed to give transportation higher priority than economic development and thus undermine our rationale for an eastern bridge. Steve Smith reinforced our view when he observed to the Courier-Journal that in any MIS, transportation issues should be examined first, with economic development analysis to be done once solutions are defined. But as Nezelkewicz astutely noted, “some folks will argue that transportation is there to serve the community’s development objectives.”
I affirmed the latter’s remark, observing that the draft appears “to make economic development secondary to transportation by defining the former as a need while transportation issues are termed problems.” Although Smith’s observation was conceptually correct, the implication was that it was appropriate to go ahead and correct the transportation “problem” without addressing the economic development goal or “need” it was intended to achieve.
Few were fully satisfied with the final draft, which we approved by a vote of thirteen to one on April 3 after minor amendments. But it was a document we could work from and which successfully synthesized most competing goals and objectives. With approval of the P&NS, the project picked up momentum on both the political and technical fronts. For the southern Indiana contingent, the political front meant getting Governor Evan Bayh’s endorsement of an I-265 route. Despite his agreement with Abramson on a two-bridge solution, he had never formally endorsed an eastern route, because no Kentucky governors, including incumbent Paul Patton, had made such a commitment. In the absence of consent by Kentucky’s chief executive, Bayh feared “gridlock.” “Gov. Bayh would build that bridge . . . in a heartbeat,” observed his press secretary Fred Nation. “The problems is that we don’t get the same feeling from our friends in Kentucky.” Some Hoosiers were beginning to believe Bayh’s reticence reflected a desire to obtain contributions from affluent eastern Louisvillians for his pending campaign for the U. S. Senate.
Bayh’s explanation that he was trying to avoid political gridlock did not set well with Indiana business and political leaders. On April 16 the SICC hosted a meeting of its Transportation and Bridge Strategy committees, local ORMIS committee members, public officials, and KIPDA representatives. The meeting’s ostensible purpose was to prepare for the next round of public workshops a few days later. But its real goal was to get a commitment from the governor. Pointing out that Indiana’s other federal and state officials had endorsed the I-265 route, Chamber president Fitzloff observed, “I’m really concerned that he will not the endorse the I-265 bridge, but is willing to build a downtown bridge where there is no support and no justification.” The implication of Bayh’s message, Fitzloff suggested, was that “he will begin bridge negotiations on the basis that all of the demands of Kentucky officials are accepted, and Indiana request are negotiable.” Jeffersonville mayor Thomas R. Galligan, who had succeeded Parker in January, expressed similar sentiments.
The meeting and the ensuing press coverage achieved their desired effects. On April 19 Bayh told the Evening News that he “completely supports the I-265 corridor for an Ohio River bridge” and added that he would not endorse a downtown bridge unless Jeffersonville residents fully supported it. Ten days later, he conducted a press conference in Utica, Indiana, near the proposed I-265 route. Joined by Representative Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor O’Bannon, Mayor Galligan, and other community leaders, he declared his firm support of the I-265 route and committed $1 million to fund an environmental impact study.”
The impact of Bayh’s commitment was immediate. The Courier-Journal dismissed it as little more than a political ploy, intended to shore up support for his senatorial campaign. But Evening News publisher Thomas J. Lindley III, offered a much more astute view. He admitted that the Courier’s dismissal of the governor’s commitment as political was “a safe shot.” “But to dismiss it as nothing more than politics is as absurd as dismissing the Kentucky Derby as nothing more than a horse race,” he added. Lindley, who had his finger firmly on the community’s pulse, recognized that the “aftershocks”of Bayh’s commitment were “still reverberating through the political and business corridors of both sides of the river” a month after he returned to Indianapolis. Aiming his sights at Abramson and Patton, he reminded Kentucky leaders that economic development in the Louisville region depended on resolving the transportation mess on the Kennedy and that both their own political futures and building bridges depended on the votes of “blue-collar construction workers . . .[who] want jobs.” “We can either grow together or decay and whither away,” he concluded. “Indiana has spoken. Kentucky, we’re listening.”
While Hoosier’s worked to gain Bayh’s commitment, JHK, KIPDA, and the ORMIS committee focused on generating ideas that could be translated into technically and politically feasible strategies to solve the transportation problem. The process kicked off in mid-April with the third round of public workshops. But attendance was dismal and people on all sides began to show a sense of bridge fatigue. Anne Fowler, a Jeffersonville attorney commented, “I’m worn out with it and disgusted and cynical. . . . We’ve studied it to death. Everyone who crosses the Kennedy Bridge knows that something needs to be done.” Eleanor Flagler Hardy of Louisville came to the same conclusion from a different perspective: “Why should I come to a hearing when the whole decision-making . . . foundation is so wrong and so unfair? . . .The votes are stacked. It’s not worth my time.” River Fields’ Runyon complained that the ORMIS committee was skewed in favor of southern Indiana, while SICC’s Fitzloff criticized KIPDA for a poor job of selecting meeting sites and letting the public know when and where the meetings where located. A week later, Mayor Abramson muddied the waters by again urging the TPC to separate the ORMIS into two separate studies. His colleagues unanimously vetoed the suggestion and then formally approved the Purpose & Needs Statement adopted by the ORMIS committee.
Despite the skepticism of many observers, the public meetings generated numerous potential solutions, which JHK reduced to nineteen transit-related recommendations and eighteen bridge and tunnel recommendations. In mid-May the consultants and the committee began combining and paring the lists to nine options. In addition to “do nothing” and “no build” with demand management options, the list included a light rail system on the Big Four Bridge, an abandoned rail road span between downtown Jeffersonville and downtown Lousville; a Big Four light rail line with urban villages, concentrations of commercial and residential development, around light-rail stations; a six-lane downtown bridge with a rebuild of Spaghetti Junction; a near-east bridge connecting I-265 with the Watterson Expressway; a far-east bridge connecting I-265 and the Gene Snyder Expressway; reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction with a reversible lane on the Kennedy Bridge; and a non-interstate bridge somewhere between Spaghetti Junction and the I-71-Watterson Expressway (I-264) interchange.
Although the ORMIS continued to generate controversy, it moved fairly smoothly over the next two months. On May 15 the committee eliminated the non-interstate bridge, reducing the developmental options to six. In late May JHK began roughing in possible routes for each bridge, including three far-eastern corridors, two near-east corridors, and two downtown corridors, providing the committee and the public with a clearer sense of where bridges might go and their potential impacts on neighborhoods, the environment, and historic properties. In early June, separate hazardous material spills on other parts of the interstate system snarled traffic into downtown Louisville on two consecutive days, adding a new sense of urgency.
As the ORMIS team prepared for another round of public meetings in late July, the eastern bridge movement received a strong boost when Kentucky state Representative Anne Northup, an East End resident and Republican candidate for the Third District Congressional race against freshman Democrat Mike Ward, announced her support for an eastern span. Ward had “dithered” on the bridge issue for more than a year, she charged, before supporting a downtown route. “It is way past time for him and others to stop shuffling and playing politics with this issue,” she said. Northup’s announcement put Ward on the defensive for the rest of the campaign and contributed to his defeat in November. As a member of the Republican majority, Northup received a seat on the Appropriations Committee and became a staunch supporter of project funding during her decade of service.
The day after Northup’s announcement, the Courier-Journal released a Bluegrass Poll that showed 91 percent of the populace favoring a new bridge somewhere. Of that number, a 68 percent supported an East End bridge, including 78 percent of Clark and Floyd county residents and 66 percent of Jefferson County residents, an 11 percent increase since 1993. SICC president Greg Fitzloff called the results a “landslide” for an eastern bridge. “We’ve always tried to suggest that as people talked about it and as people thought about it, support for the East End bridge would get stronger.” But Barry Alberts, director of the Downtown Development Corporation, dismissed the findings. “I think it’s dangerous to look at this kind of very complex issue as a matter of public sentiment,” be observed. “There’s still a lot of misinformation about the impacts of various bridges.” Although it supported his view on the bridges, the Courier-Journal gently rebuked Albert with the admonition that “the residents of this area who fight traffic in Spaghetti Junction and on the Kennedy Bridge every day have earned some say in the matter.”
As the July workshops approached, all participants made concerted efforts to prevent a repeat of the May meetings. On July 21 the Courier-Journal published an op-ed column by consultant David Keever explaining the alternative river crossing options that the ORMIS committee had presented. The next day, the Evening News printed a column that I had drafted for Fitzloff encouraging eastern bridge advocates to present a consistent message about the “enormous benefits” of such a span. It urged our officials to make it clear to “wealthy East End bridge opponents that we will not back down” and encouraged eastern route advocates to support “those who are on the firing line on [sic] the bridge campaign.” The latter point reflected the fact that Indiana’s ORMIS representatives were receiving criticism from our constituents who did not understand the delicacy of the process and were blaming us for delaying the bridge with “one more study.” Citing the Bluegrass Poll, the column assured that “We are closing in on a public consensus. It’s vital for the long-term economic health of the entire region that we stay the course and make sure that the public will is heard.”
The same day Fitzloff’s piece appeared, JHK released its review of seven bridge options and three alternative plans, laying out the advantages and disadvantages of a light rail route, two downtown bridge routes, a reversible lane on the Kennedy with a Spaghetti Junction rebuild; two near eastern spans connecting I-265 and the Watterson Expressway, and three far eastern routes connecting I-265 and the Gene Snyder. The report’s most important findings for eastern bridge advocates were that only a new bridge parallel to the Kennedy would relieve growing congestion at Spaghetti Junction; that a near eastern bridge would carry about 46,000 vehicles daily; and that a far eastern bridge would handle about 40,000.
The study also seemed to refute our assertions that an eastern bridge would promote economic development. But as project manager Steven Smith explained, it there was “substantial evidence that development will occur along new transportation corridors and that major transportation facilities will promote shifts in developmental patterns.” Simply put, the analysis concluded that it was difficult to show that any bridge would spur new economic development within the region, but one might attract business from elsewhere. In an era of business mobility, this explanation seemed a distinction without a difference. Equally important, the report indicated that all eastern sites would improve regional “travel mobility,” an argument we had made for years. The report found little hope for light rail, with estimates of only 4,000 crossings daily.
Neither JHK’s report nor the July workshops changed the minds of River Fields and the Courier-Journal editorial board, who seemed wedded to one-bridge downtown. But for the ORMIS team, the findings increasingly supported a two-bridge solution–one that addressed the diverse goals of the main stakeholders and provided a politically feasible solution for officials who had wagered substantial political capital on the outcome. By early August it was clear that the eastern span had a winning margin in the ORMIS committee. But we wanted a consensus solution the region could unite behind. JHK provided the roadmap in mid-August when it presented four revised options: 1. A downtown bridge and overhaul of Spaghetti Junction coupled with a near-eastern bridge at the Watterson Expressway. 2. A downtown bridge and Spaghetti Junction rebuild combined with a far eastern bridge. 3. Light rail, with the possibility of combining it with either the first or second recommendations during the next phase of the study. 4. An open option to allow the study committee and consultants to come up with another scenario.
JHK’s recommendations boiled down to a two-bridge solution. Although several of us liked light rail, we were convinced that demand did not yet justify the investment. Likewise, the open option seemed nebulous. The two-bridge option began to draw cautious interest from Governor Patton, Representative Hamilton, and other officials; however, they shared Mayor Abramson’s concerns about the timing and costs of construction. But SICC closed ranks behind a two-bridge strategy and Indiana’s ORMIS committee members endorsed the plan.
When the committee met on August 21, it became apparent that JHK’s recommendation was premature. Barry Barker, executive director of the Transit Authority of River City, and Jefferson County planning director Adrian Freund wanted to leave light rail on the table for further study. And although he favored a two-bridge option, Freund was not ready to eliminate the single-bridge solutions. One of our responsibilities, however, was to search for fatal flaws in any give alternative. When another member noted that a far eastern route passed near a Louisville Water Company filtering basin, I realized that the proposed Watterson Expressway routes would cross the Indiana-American Water Company well field on the Indiana shore, which supplies water to much of southeast Indiana. Although I live within a mile of the well field, the problem had never occurred to me nor to anyone else. When I raised the concern, Keever pronounced it a fatal flaw. The Watterson Expressway connection was eliminated. The upshot of the seven-hour meeting was that we repackaged the alternatives back into four for further study–a downtown bridge, a downtown and an eastern bridge, a light rail system and eastern bridge, and an eastern bridge with Spaghetti Junction improvements.
Abramson, Armstrong, and other officials picked away at various parts of the package, but the TPC approved it for further study. The Courier-Journal continued to inveigh against any solution that demonstrated a degree of political feasibility, but in late September several of Louisville’s most influential business leaders, including Humana chairman David Jones, Bank One CEO Malcolm Chancey, Providian Corp. CEO Irving Bailey, and Fifth Third Bank CEO James Gaunt, endorsed a two bridge solution.
In early November, economic consultant Hickling Lewis Brod, Inc.(HLB) appeared to dash East End bridge advocates’s belief that such a span would generate many new jobs. But further explanation revealed that the problem was mainly one of data, and that any bridge would have a substantial economic benefit, irrespective of job creation. More important, the study showed that two bridges would have greater transportation and short-run economic impacts than either bridge standing alone, that an East End span would have a larger monetized transportation benefit than a downtown bridge, and that an eastern span would be much less expensive.
With publication of the HLB report, support for a two-bridge solution spiked. The Courier-Journal signed on three days later, remarking that “neither state will benefit from stalemate, and neither will benefit from continued deterioration of the downtown heart of the region’s transportation system.” Ironically, Indiana representatives, including those of us who had long-advocated a two-bridge solution, remained wary because of issues such as timing–which bridge would be built first–and the potential impact on downtown Jeffersonville.
On November 18 JHK recommended to the ORMIS committee that we endorse a two-bridge solution with an East End bridge linking I-265 and the Gene Snyder near Harrod’s Creek, a downtown bridge immediately upstream from the Kennedy Bridge, and reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction. Bridge Strategy Committee chair Cecile Blau and I expressed cautious support, based on concerns about funding, timing, and environmental impacts. Others had their own reservations, and die-hard opponents in eastern Jefferson County threatened legal action. Nevertheless, on December 3, after revisiting major issues, the ORMIS committee voted thirteen to three to send JHK’s recommendation, with the addition of a time line to assure that the eastern span would be completed first, to the Transportation Policy Committee for its action.
Although the TPC’s approval was almost a foregone conclusion, the next two weeks had moments of tension. Even though it had endorsed the two-bridge solution, the Courier-Journal could not resist taking a final shot at “the short-sighted, development-driven scheme that launched the bridge debate.” It also took a jab at Judge Armstrong for transforming “the political paranoia of eastern bridge supporters into public policy–bad public policy,” a reference to his trust-building support of the construction time line that Jefferson County and Indiana committee members had added. Evening News publisher Tom Lindley replied tartly: “The problem many in Kentucky are having . . . is that they don’t see the issue from the northern perspective. There seems to be scant concern, even contempt, when we in Indiana stake out our position. If our needs aren’t exactly as theirs, we should acquiesce. Nonsense. Those Hoosiers who have devoted years to this civic project aren’t petty people. Quite the contrary, they have been the picture of model citizens. Their loyalty and trust is beyond question. Turning back on the Courier-Journal the title of its editorial, Lindley concluded: “ It is a time for trust, not spite.”
But Armstrong had the final word. The TPC met December 19 to consider the ORMIS committee’s recommendation. As TTCC chair I was an ex-officio member without vote, and except for a couple of clarifying comments from the ORMIS perspective, I did not participate in the discussion. But I witnessed a masterpiece of political gamesmanship. New Albany mayor Douglas England chaired the meeting, but Armstrong, convinced that unanimous approval was essential to gain public trust, provided the leadership.
Abramson opened discussion with questions about the intent of the time table and asked, “If there is a glitch on one [bridge] would the other move forward?” He asked if the project was being interpreted as one project or two. Sensing that he might cast a lone negative vote, Armstrong and others began whipsawing the mayor into line. KTC secretary James Codell III, who moved to approve the recommendation, attempted to reassure him: “I made the motion, and as far as I’m concern . . . it would have to go forward.” His Indiana counterpart, Debra Simmons Wilson, offered similar reassurance. But England warned that if opponents tried to “drag the East End bridge through hell with lawsuits and then say, ‘Let’s go ahead . . . with the downtown bridge,’ I’m going to say ‘no.’” Jeffersonville’s Tom Galligan, a building contractor and self-described “blue-collar” mayor, reinforced England. Although acknowledging that a downtown bridge was difficult for his city to accept, he promised to cooperate because “we think it is good for the community.” Then he added, “I want the East End bridge built first because of traffic. If it lags a little bit, no problem. If it lags a lot, then I’m going to say I’ve been snookered.”
In the end, the combination of assurances and admonitions won Abramson’s assent, and the TPC approved Codell’s motion by an vote of nineteen to zero. Eastern bridge advocates were ecstatic. Judge Armstrong perhaps said it best. Acknowledging the vote as a personal victory, he added, “But more important, it’s a victory for the community. . . .We’ve improved government’s position for economic development and quality of life and greater access regionally. Something special is beginning to happen here, and nobody wanted to be left out. Nobody.”
Not everyone shared Armstrong’s sentiment. Meme Runyon lauded approval of the downtown bridge, but insisted “there’s no technical justification for an eastern bridge.” East End lawyers lined up to challenge the vote in federal court, and in January residents of four East End neighborhoods near the potential bridge corridor lauknched a television advertisement attacking the eastern bridge. But it was in vain. Over the next year, Representatives Hamilton and Northup lobbied for federal funds, and the respective state transportation departments hammered out the agreement that Governors O’Bannon and Patton signed in December 1997. A decade later, River Fields still opposes the project, but the environmental impact study has been completed, final corridors have been selected, and bridge designs and preservation studies are almost complete. Funding remains an issue, as the estimated cost approaches $4 billion, and aside from some initial approach work, the initiation of construction still seems an elusive dream.
But for this historian-planner, the chance to participate in the decision-making process for a project that has the potential to transform the community I grew up in and whose history I have studied for more than three decades was the opportunity of a lifetime. Likewise, this paper offered an opportunity to reflect on why the decision-making process turned out as it did. Simply put, how did the business and civic leaders of Clark and Floyd counties, whose combined population is approximately one-fifth that of Jefferson County, ultimately achieve the decision to build the long-sought eastern bridge?
Several observations come to mind. First, we gained the initial advantage by proposing a specific objective that seemed to offer a positive solution to a problem faced by many residents every day. That put us in the position of being for something rather than against it. That advantage put River Fields, which at first appeared to oppose any bridge, in the position favoring a downtown bridge only as an alternative to an eastern span. Others who adopted that view, including Mayor Abramson and the Courier-Journal, had to dispel the stigma of opposing a project that would benefit the entire region.
Second, after developing a strong business-political alliance in Indiana, we built an effective bi-state, bi-partisan coalition by reaching out to Judge Armstrong and his administration, key Louisville business leaders, and labor organizations with influence among local and state officials. As public support grew, the early endorsement by these officials provided political cover for others to join us later.
Third, we effectively cultivated public opinion, a strategy in which the Courier-Journal’s the Bluegrass Polls proved an especially effective tool. Although the editorial page and even some news stories attempted to undermine us, the polls underscored the common sense of our position when we lacked the financial resources to commission technical studies such as those funded by River Fields and the Downtown Development Corporation.
Fourth, we were unified. Clark and Floyd counties are historically contentious communities which are riven by municipal, academic, geographic, political, and other rivalries. But underlying this veneer of division is a powerful sense of community based upon interlocking kinship, friendship, and associational ties that can unite in times of stress. That sense of unity proved a powerful force in the bridge debate, especially when opposition from River Fields and the Courier-Journal took on an increasingly condescending anti-Indiana tone. Our willingness to stand firm in the face of powerful political and economic opposition, even at the risk of stalemate, made it easier for potential Kentucky allies to join us, while it forced the opposition to compromise or allow themselves to be marginalized.
Finally, we were willing to compromise and broaden our focus. It was not easy for Orem and me to step out early and embrace a two-bridge solution when building one still seemed a pipe dream. Endorsements by the Evening News and the Clark County commissioners gave us political cover, but it was more than two years before JHK and the ORMIS committee came to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, when technical data showed that an eastern bridge alone, no matter how effectively it addressed our mobility and economic objectives, would not significantly relieve congestion at Spaghetti Junction, our decision to embrace a larger solution demonstrated our willingness to cooperate for the benefit of the entire region, even if it meant further damage to Jeffersonville, while painting the opposition as parochial obstructionists.
Because the Ohio River Bridges Project is ongoing, it is impossible to determine how valid or even pertinent my observations will appear decades after the bridges are built. But I hope that these reflections will give future historians and planners some useful insights into the decision-making dynamics of such projects and encourage others who have had similar opportunities to record their experiences as well.
1. The Evening News (Jeffersonville), Dec. 10, 12, 1997; The Courier-Journal (Louisville), Dec. 12, 1997; Old Jeffersonville Historic Preservation Plan, Final Draft (Indianapolis: Ratio Architects, Inc., 2007): 8.
2. EN, Feb. 13, 1958; CJ, July 20, 1969; “Interstates and Expressways,” in John E. Kleber, The Encyclopedia of Louisville (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001): 417; Carl E. Kramer, This Place We Call Home: A History of Clark County, Indiana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007): 414-15, 461.
3. Kramer, This Place We Call Home, 415.
4. Personal interview with James P. Keith, August 26, 2007; telephone interview with David L. Kinder, August 22, 2007. Kinder later became police chief of Sellersburg, Indiana, and is now town clerk-treasurer.
5. See Carl E. Kramer and Mark Noland, Louisville Survey: Central and South Report (Louisville: Community Development Cabinet, City of Louisville, 1978).
6. Kramer, This Place We Call Home, 462; EN, Aug. 20, Dec. 27, 1991.
7. Personal interview with Dale Orem, September 4, 2007.
8. Meme Sweets Runyon, “River Fields,” in Kleber, ed., Louisville Encyclopedia, 764.
9. EN, Dec. 27, 1991. Wilkerson & Associates had been a client of my firm, Kentuckiana Historical Services, during the mid-1980s, but I was not involved in the SICC survey.
10. Carl E. Kramer, “David Love Armstrong,” in Kleber, ed., Louisville Encyclopedia, 48. I participated in the Regional Focus Forum as the scriptwriter for an audiovisual presentation on the history of transportation in the Falls of the Ohio region.
11. I served as Armstrong’s oral historian for ten years, from the last year of his first term as judge executive through his entire term as mayor of Louisville, which ended in December 2002.
12. Kramer, This Place We Call Home, 485.
13. Clark County Plan Commission, Clark County Comprehensive Plan (Jeffersonville, Indiana, 1991), n.p.
14. CJ, Oct. 10, 1991; EN, Oct. 10, 1991.
15. EN, Aug. 20, 1991; CJ, Sept. 23, 24, 1991.
16. CJ, Dec. 12, 13, 1991; EN, Dec. 12, 13, 1991.
17. CJ, Oct. 14, 1992.
18. Ibid., Oct 23, 1992.
19. Ibid., Dec. 4, 1992; EN, Dec. 4, 1992; Business First, Dec. 7, 1992.
20. EN, Jan. 7, Feb. 17, 1993; CJ, Feb. 9, 13, 1993.
21. CJ, Feb. 20, 22 (Letters to the Editor), 1993.
22. Ibid., 23, 24, 1993; EN, Feb. 24, 1993.
23. CJ, Mar. 2, 1993 (Letters to the Editor); Business First, Apr. 19, 1993.
24. EN, Feb. 23, 1993. Fischer was deeply involved in Goals for Greater Louisville.
25. CJ, June 8, 9, 1993.
26. Ibid., June 8, 9, 15, 1993.
27. Ibid., June 15, 1993.
28. Ibid., June 30, 1993.
29. Clark County Plan Commission Resolution, July 14, 1993, Carl E. Kramer Scrapbook No. 38, Kramer Associates, Inc., Jeffersonville, Indiana.
30. CJ, Aug. 19, 1993.
31. Ibid., Aug. 20, Sept. 4, 13, 1993.
32. Ibid., Oct. 20, 1993; EN, Oct. 30, 1993.
33. CJ, Nov. 30, 1993.
34. Ibid. Freund is the son of Eric Fruend, co-editor of Principles and Practices of Urban Planning, once the “Bible” of urban planning.
35. EN, Dec. 8, 1993.
36. CJ, Dec. 2, 1993.
37. Ibid., Jan. 13, 1994; EN, Jan. 13, 1994.
38. CJ, Jan. 17, 1994.
39. John F. Kain, Gary R. Fauth, Zhi Liu, Analysis of Economic Benefits of Alternative Ohio River Bridge Crossings, Executive Summary (Boston: Carlisle, Fauth, Gaskins & O’Brien, Inc., April 15, 1994): 4-8; CJ, Jan., 21, Mar. 11, Apr. 16, 1994; EN, Jan. 19, 1994.
40. EN, Apr. 28, May 5, 1994; CJ, Apr. 16, 29, May 3, 1994.
41. EN, Jan. 6, 1994.
42. Dale Orem and Carl E. Kramer, “Critique of Analysis of Economic Benefits of Alternative Ohio River Bridge Crossings by Carlisle, Fauth, Gaskins & O’Brien, Inc., May 18, 1994; Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Report from the Chamber, (June 1994): 2.
43. “Report from the Chamber,” 2; CJ, May, 19, 1994..
44. CJ, June 5, 1994.
45. Ibid., June 21, 23, 1994.
46. Ibid., Aug. 5, 1994.
47. Ibid., Aug. 5, 7, 1994.
48. Ibid., Aug. 17, Sept. 15, 1994; EN, Aug. 17, Sept. 16, 1994.
49. CJ, Oct. 15, 1994.
50. Ibid., Mar. 2, 1994.
51. Ibid., Sept. 23, 1994. Jilek did not necessarily have the last word, but he was highly respected by all parties, especially the TTCC, and his judgment prevailed. Mayor Abramson continued to favor separate studies, but finally relented in November after a FHWA memorandum insisted that two studies could not be included in the project. EN, Nov. 19, 1994.
52. EN, Sept. 17, 22, Oct. 18, Nov. 14, 19, 1994; CJ, Oct. 8, Nov. 16, 27, 1994.
53. CJ, July 18, 1995; David Burton, Memorandum to Review Team Members, April 24, 1995, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 1. Nezelkewicz’s title was moderator deference to the chair of the TTCC. It was a sound decision, because I was the TTCC chair, and I had a clear bias. Nezelkewicz remained scrupulously neutral throughout the proceedings.
54. CJ, Mar. 7, July 7, 1995; Lawrence C. (Lonnie) Falk to Norman Nezelkewicz, August 18, 1995, Carl E. Kramer ORMIS Binder, Kramer Associates, Inc., Jeffersonville, Indiana. Falk was mayor of Prospect.
55. CJ, Apr. 18, May 10, 1995; KIPDA Ohio River Major Investment Study, Proposal Evaluation and Scoring Packages, Carl E. Kramer ORMIS Committee Box, Kramer Associates, Inc..
56. CJ, Sept. 7, 11, 1995; Business First, Sept. 11, 1995. Bayh and Abramson were personal friends, a factor that stemmed in part from the fact that they were both undergraduate alumni of Indiana University, though not academic contemporaries, and that they were prominent Democrats from adjoining states.
57. David Burton to ORMIS Committee, Sept. 14, 1995, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 1.
58. ORMIS Committee agenda, Oct. 8, 1995, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 1; ORMIS Committee Decision Chronicle-A, October 6, 1995, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 2.
59. EN, Dec. 8, 12, 1995; CJ, Dec. 9, 15, 1995; ORMIS Information Item: December 1995 Work Session Summary Report, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 2.
60. My definition of a “problem” is the one used by Joseph F. Maloney, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Louisville and founder of the former Institute of Community Development, from which I received a master of science degree in 1972 and where I taught from 1976 to 1990.
61. ORMIS Statement of Purpose and Need, preliminary draft, January 24, 1996, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 2.
62. CJ, Mar. 20, 26, 1996; Carl E. Kramer to Norman Nezelkewicz and Steve Smith, March 22, 1996, Kramer ORMIS Binder No. 2.
63. Kramer to Nezelkewicz and Smith.
64. ORMIS, Purpose and Needs Statement, draft, March 13, 1996, 20-21; CJ, Mar. 20, 1996; Kramer to Nezelkewicz and Smith (boldface in original).
65. EN, Apr. 16, 1997.
66. Ibid., Apr. 17, 1997. The second Fitzloff quotation is of the newspaper’s paraphrase of his remarks, not a direct quotation of Fitzloff. I was at the meeting and believe the newspaper’s summary an accurate rendition of Fitzloff’s meaning.
67. Ibid., Apr. 20, 1996; CJ, Apr. 27, 30, 1996; “Governor Bayh Backs I-265 Bridge Location with $1 Million Future Commitment,” Governor’s Office Press Release, April 29, 1996, Kramer Scrapbook No. 45.
68. CJ, May 1, 1996; EN, May 25, 1996.
69. CJ, Apr. 20, 1996; EN, Apr. 26, 1996.
70. EN, May 15, 1996.
71. CJ, May 16, 30, June 7, 1996; EN, May 16, June 7, July 2, 1996.
72. CJ, July 13, 1996. Although it is difficult to attribute an election’s outcome to a single issue, it was clear to Democratic observers in southern Indiana that Northup’s position was a decisive blow to Ward, largely because he mishandled it. Shortly before the election, a Louisville television station conducted a forum on the bridge issue, which both Northup and Ward attended. During the broadcast, both candidates had an opportunity to state their views on the issue. Northup firmly supported an East End bridge. But Ward was indecisive, generally favoring a downtown span but stating that he was not an expert and should wait until all study results were in. The feeling in the audience that he had bungled his answer was palpable. As the broadcast ended, I left with Mayors Tom Galligan and Doug England and Elmer Hoehn, a Clark County political wheel horse who had advised several presidents on energy policy. When we got outside, England said, “Ward just lost this election.” The rest of us agreed. As Democrats, we were saddened by Ward’s mistake, but as eastern bridge advocates we would become grateful for Northup’s cooperation with Representatives Lee Hamilton, his Democratic successor Baron Hill, and Mike Sodrel, the erstwhile SICC Transportation Committee chair, who upset Hill in 2004 and served one term before being defeated by Hill in a 2006 rematch. Northup lost her seat in the same election to Louisville publisher John Yarmuth.
73. Ibid., July 14, 15, 16, 1996
74. CJ, July 21, 1996; EN, July 22, 1996.
75. CJ, July 23, 1993.
77. Ibid., Aug.3, 13, 1996.
78. Ibid., Aug. 3, 1996; EN, Aug. 20, 1996.
79. CJ, Aug. 21, 22, 1996; EN, Aug. 23, 1996.
80. CJ, Aug. 23, 24, Sept. 27, 1993; EN, Sept. 27, 1996.
81. CJ, Nov. 5, 1996; EN, Nov. 5, 1996.
82. CJ, Nov. 8, 1996.
83. Ibid., Nov. 17, 19, 20, 21, Dec. 2, 3, 1996; EN, 18, 19, Dec. 3, 1996.
84. CJ, Dec. 4, 1996; EN, 17, 1996.
85. CJ, Dec. 20, 1996; EN, Dec. 20, 1996. As Armstrong’s oral historian at the time, I was privy to his views on the issue.
86. CJ, Dec. 20, 1996.
87. Ibid., Dec. 20, 30, 1996; Jan. 3, Feb. 27, 28, Mar. 28, Sept. 25, Dec. 12, 16, 1997; Dec.5, 2006; EN, Feb. 27, 1997.
88. Kramer, This Place We Call Home, passim.