Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

Stumler says he wants to run an issues-oriented campaign. One of the issues he’s concerned with is the Ohio River Bridges Project. He says he supports current efforts to make the project smaller and less expensive, but thinks they should go further.

I would kind of like to, say, hold off on the downtown bridge
. Maybe redo part of Spaghetti Junction to make it more drivable, less problems,” he says. “I just don’t know if we should burden ourselves with that much money. It probably, for sure, in the future will be needed. But maybe we should build it and pay for it when it’s needed.” (emphasis in both instances added)

--Newly minted Democratic Mayoral Candidate Irv Stumler, as quoted by WFPL's Gabe Bullard at yesterday's coming out party.

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Those are welcome words as the imbroglio over the Bridges Project enters a new phase. ALL local governments have spoken against the concept of tolling existing bridges as a means of funding the bloated Two Bridges Plan which occupies center stage in the debate.

The larger question is one which Mr. Stumler's answer suggests, "What is the preferred shape of our regional transportation plan, of our footprint on the regional environment for now and for countless years in the future?"

Tolls are a monetary inconvenience and a threat to today's businesses which hope to thrive in a regional economy. By questioning the very need of a Downtown Bridge, Irv Stumler broadens the debate to look at the environmental impact of a second bridge. Taking tolls off the table is a huge step, but it is only the first step, and a small one at that, in right-sizing this over-inflated boondoggle.

Not only will the Downtown Bridge take a scythe to our neighbor's (Jeffersonville) thriving, though-still-nascent riverfront renaissance (please excuse the alliteration). It will also place us regionally on a path which is at odds with responsible environmental stewardship. To look for other paths, as Mr. Stumler has done, is to glimpse the better way for a 21st Century metropolitan area thirsting for cohesion and its attendant benefits.

If the default position is not obeisance to automobile commuting, it must be something else. And that something else is, hopefully, a modern incarnation of the long lost interurban system which thrived (throve is correct but a tad pedantic) here in the pre-war era. The reason this throwback transportation model is, in fact, forward-looking can be summed up in two words--River Ridge. That goose along the Ohio and Highway 62 is perched upon a nest and ready to lay dozens of golden eggs. Those eggs will best be accessed by rail for freight and while we're at it, why not upgrade to a commuter service which can responsibly and efficiently transport workers to the sprawling facility? Such a model of efficient transportation, rational planning, and environmental responsibility, is one step we can take regionally to differentiate our community from the many other communities also hoping to grow their economy. Mr. Stumler's challenge, as stated in the phrase,"we should go further" claims the high ground in this debate.

I'm not a student of military campaigns, but I think a tenet of that school would be to hold the high ground when once you have occupied it. Thank you, Irv Stumler.

Something related to what Mr. Stumler has done is alluded to in an article by author Bill McKibben. In the article reprinted on Truthout, McKibben talks about the intrinsic value of The Commons, that's what Woody Guthrie referred to when he sang, "This land is your land..."

Irv Stumler's comments about the inappropriate Two Bridge plan came to mind when I read McKibben's words,


These things we share are called commons, which simply means they belong to all of us. Commons can be gifts of nature—such as fresh water, wilderness and the airwaves—or the products of social ingenuity like the Internet, parks, artistic traditions, or the public health service. But today much of our common wealth is under threat from those hungry to ruin it or take it over for selfish, private purposes. (emphasis added)

Stumler rightly sees the threat to the commons which the Two Bridge plan represents. I welcome Irv Stumler into the political arena and wholeheartedly pledge to help him fulfill his pledge to stop the Downtown Bridge.