By Bob HillSpecial to Louisville Magazine/Louisville.com
All of you who still believe an East End bridge will be built as partof the supposed $4.1 billion cost of the Ohio River Bridges Projectplease contact me about some swampland on the moon.
All of you who still believe it will be built by 2016 — up three estimated years from 2013 — might step up for some free aerobic workouts with Humpty Dumpty.
All the rest of you can huddle up in I-264 toll booths until further notice.
There actually was a time when I believed I would live to see an East End bridge between Kentucky and Indiana. There also was a time when I believed I could play center field for the New York Yankees. But over the last 50 years or so that our leaders have been muttering about such a bridge, it’s become painfully obvious that the best way to stop it is to just allow the designated bridge process to continue. It’s slow, political, bureaucratic, occasionally deceitful, fitfully asinine, horribly expensive and ultimately self-defeating.
Then toss in the two-year failure to meet federal guidelines to update the project cost — and what do you suppose that means? Add in self-serving River Fields, which has always been good for the occasional obstructive lawsuit.
And Mayor Jerry Abramson and other power players and editorial writers weren’t the least bit of help until the second, downtown bridge and miles of new overhead concrete got poured into the picture. Suddenly came their cheerleading — even from the former East End bridge opponents. Two bridges were better than one. Now the near-term outlook is closer to none. In fact, the whole 8664 one-new-bridge is-plenty argument is beginning to make more sense by the minute — or is that by the million?
The most recent wrinkle in bridge fabric was news that the proposed interstate tunnel connecting the Gene Snyder Freeway might be deleted as a cost-cutting measure. The tunnel under a historic home would be about 2,000 feet long. Its current estimated price tag is $261 million — up just a few decimal places from its 2003 price tag of $96.5 million. That’s right, the price almost tripled in six years. It’s hard to know if the costs of cement and steel have gone up that much or somebody just bought a new dart board.
The straight-faced Courier-Journal story on the matter said the final tunnel decision would be made by a “highranking group of officials that includes the Federal Highway Administration and Kentucky and Indiana transportation departments.” And the decision will be made “in the next year or so.”
Geez, you can almost feel the urgency. So are you still willing to bet the total bridges project package will hold at $4.1 billion? Let’s meet on the moon and talk it over. And I’ll bring Humpty Dumpty.
If you need some laugh lines here, consider that Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials had estimated a cost of only $19 million to dig an exploratory test tunnel at the site. The worry now is that if it is dug — and the tunnel not built — what could be done with a $19 million hole in the ground? I’m not totally sure what you’re thinking, but my first legal option would be a grave for 50 years of bridge studies.
I began going to the public bridge meetings with Daniel Boone. Everyone was very nice; we were asked to vote on the designs we liked best, and then 14 bi-state officials and politicians locked themselves in a room and made the final decisions. In Indiana, developers were selling land and houses to people the developers knew would be in the path of the bridge. In Kentucky, one of the main arguments against the bridge became that it would help create jobs in Indiana — a fine example of upscale regional thinking. Meanwhile, some of the bridge-path land the environmentalists were supposed to be saving was being eaten up with new houses — many of them oversized, hey-look-at-me, energy-eating monstrosities.
Has any project of this scope ever been done anywhere near on time — and budget? How has the process become so much more important — and legally vulnerable — than the final product?
Somewhere in the distant past — like 2002 — the estimated bridges project cost was $2.5 billion. Now the $4.1 billion. I’m certain the final cost will be at least $6 billion to $8 billion — and Kentucky already hasn’t a clue how to come up with its $2.9 billion share — among other things.
I’m thinking that someday we’ll all be paying bridge tolls for their great leadership. I’m also thinking of calling the New York Yankees.