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August 27, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE: A little too close to truth

Here’s something resplendent: 

After three years of coordinated assault on the idea that Louisville do something other than the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project* to address projected traffic concerns, it turns out that earlier this year, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet authorized $49,922.25 in taxpayer money to study 8664, an alternative to the “two-bridge solution” that would remove a riverfront stretch of I-64, untangle Spaghetti Junction, build only an East End bridge and slap a fetching waterfront boulevard on downtown. 

Wow. A legit study of an alternative to the bridges project? Did Mitch McConnell freeze over? 

Don’t be silly. 

The state stopped that nonsense about 93 percent of the way through. KYTC gave only $46,267.94 to Wilbur Smith Associates, the firm with a standing arrangement to provide consulting services to the cabinet. 

Transportation Secretary Joe Prather put the kibosh on the study, the second official attempt to assess 8664 without actually assessing it (a 2005 “white paper” commissioned and then buried by the Downtown Development Corp. showed the idea viable; this does not include the phantom study invented some years ago by bridge proponents trying to get reporters off their backs). A spokesman for the cabinet, Chuck Wolfe, tells me Prather wasn’t aware of the study from the outset — it was commissioned by the highway engineer’s office, a division of KYTC — but that when he did learn of it, he stopped it so as not to upset negotiations in the General Assembly at the time about new financing schemes for the bridges project. Shockingly, the legislature did nothing on the issue. 

Which is why, months later and only under pressure from 8664, whose co-pilots, Tyler Allen and J.C. Stites, discovered the study through a routine open records request … 

Prather has decided to order the study completed and its results made public. Wolfe wasn’t sure when — as of Tuesday morning, Prather had yet to discuss this with Wilbur Smith Associates — but, given that it took roughly four weeks to complete 93 percent of the study, it’s “reasonable to expect that it wouldn’t take a great deal of time,” he says. 


There is the logical assumption that, without pressure from citizens like Allen and Stites, KYTC would’ve let this one ride, and that is infuriating. 

But dig a little and you’ll find more weirdness. 

For instance, the state returned very little on 8664’s broad open records request, which attempted to unearth studies of any alternative proposals (there was only this one). 

There is a series of e-mails that seem to book-end the life of the study, offering some rather detailed Q&A about what exactly 8664 is trying to be and an attempt to bury the term “8664” so that it doesn’t appear that the state is actually doing such a loony thing as studying the non-status quo. 

There is no official document terminating the study, only an e-mail asking Wilbur Smith Associates to stop work and pretty up the bill. 

We later learn that the engineering firm apparently used only the 8664 website as primary source material, and based on that, decided on its own to amend 8664 to include a downtown bridge.

Huh? 

Nobody was consulted about what Wilbur Smith’s John Carr called the “fatal flaw” in the concept — nobody includes 8664 as well as the state agency responsible for administering studies like these. 

Wolfe says he’s not sure why nobody consulted 8664 or Walter Kulash, the engineer it hired last year to perform a feasibility study (guess how that turned out). 

Here’s some simple math: a made-up study of a similar concept not working in the ’90s … plus … a buried white paper by the pseudo-public agency charged with growing downtown … plus … a stunted study by state government … plus … a regional transportation agency that continually refuses to open its modeling software to an 8664 engineer … plus … a PR machine funded in part with government cash that uses the daily newspaper to trash 8664 every chance it gets. 

Somewhere, somebody’s getting a little too close to the truth. 


*A misguided attempt to assuage 21st century traffic concerns with 20th century innovation that, if not doomed by lack of funding, will certainly fall victim to political attrition when gas hits, oh, $6 a gallon.