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November 14, 2006

City Strobe: Bring low the rail lines

Since its halcyon days as a patch of mud where Ohio River travelers stopped to sleep and scavenge, Louisville has been a city because of transportation: Back when George Rogers Clark romped, boats transporting goods down the river had to offload here before negotiating the Falls of the Ohio. In a sense, Louisville has long been on the front end of water- and petroleum-based transportation. Take the middle of last century (not forgetting the L&N lines) and the expanding federal highway system, which some say accounts for prime industrial and manufacturing holdings like Ford Motor Co.: We’re in the regional sweet spot, a veritable hub that’s been entrenched in the national character by UPS’s more recent rites of allegiance.Concomitantly, we have TARC, and as of last week the official evolution of a mess for Louisville progress vis-à-vis transportation. The Transit Authority of the River City — responsible for our bus system since 1974, 145 years after the first bus systems hit the States — is about to have its “advanced transit” agenda wiped clean off the Metro area transportation strategy, a document called Horizon 2030 that foresees every move made to highways, roadways, bus and rail lines for the next 24 years.Last Wednesday, a Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) committee voted 8-6 to recommend scrapping the $1.4 billion in potential transit options, including light rail and bus rapid transit, from the blueprint. A decision on whether to enact the recommendation will come Nov. 28.KIPDA consists of small-city representatives from Jefferson and surrounding counties, as well as Southern Indiana. Its Transportation Technical Coordinating Committee had to act: Two federal agencies, the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, rejected the version of Horizon 2030 that KIPDA passed last year because both said the TARC proposals weren’t financially viable.Why? There is a specific pool of federal money — the New Starts Program — that cities must access to fund local transit projects. Because Louisville has never received this money, it could not project it as a way to pay for some of the $1.4 billion cost estimate, according to TARC executive director Barry Barker.Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the FHWA, said Monday that both federal agencies would continue working with TARC to find funding for the transit programs, which he said the agencies support.Nedra Morrell, community outreach planner for the transportation division of KIPDA, told me last week that TARC’s proposals — which include eight “corridors,” or specific areas in which some form of public transit could be upgraded or initiated — will move to an “illustrative” list, meaning that funding sources haven’t been identified yet. She said they wouldn’t disappear from the radar entirely.Federal law requires long-range transportation plans to project specific funding sources. The two federal agencies refused to advance other projects in Horizon 2030 — there are numerous small roadway initiatives that have already gained state approval — until a funding strategy was set for the TARC proposals.Barker said that created an artificial clash between transit and highway projects.“People were very clear, certainly during the meeting and to me afterwards, that this was not a vote against public transportation,” Barker said. “But it becomes expedient for short-term transportation improvements to approve a long-range plan that doesn’t include improvements in transit.” City officials aren’t pleased with the recommendation. Bruce Traughber, the mayor’s cabinet secretary for community development, told me Monday that he and Barker are scheduled to meet with a representative of the FHWA later this week to discuss the federal position. He said Metro Government supports TARC examining a multitude of public transit options. In a statement last week, State Rep. Jim Wayne, part of the Louisville delegation, said the recommendation appeared to be a counterbalance to the Ohio River Bridges Project, which is projected to cost just under $3 billion and has yet to be included in Horizon 2030. An official financial plan for the Project is scheduled for release Dec. 1. Leslie Barras, associate director of River Fields, sent a letter last week to the head of the committee that will decide whether to exercise the recommendation, urging him to reject it. In an interview Monday, she called it “a significant step backwards for the community.” —Stephen GeorgeStone massages for everyone!When Julie Shipp of Louisville received $1,000 on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” along with the challenge to give it away, she used the money to solve one of society’s most pressing needs: She took some homeless men to a spa and got them showers, shaves and haircuts. A broader-scale version of such largesse is one of many options available to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who finds the state awash in 279 million unexpected simoleons. The extra money is available because revenue is coming in ahead of budget projections. Some say it’s because the governor raised taxes, and some say his “revenue neutral” tax overhaul is paying dividends, but whatever, boo-ya, it’s time to live large.Fletcher has some priorities for spending the money — like funding education and retirement programs — but he wants to hear “the voice of the people,” which is sort of courageous on his part, considering that when last they spoke, the people said “we don’t like Republicans anymore.” The governor’s office will create a forum soon for citizens to tell Fletcher how to spend the money, so try to think up something cool, people. An extra coat of shellac for the Kennedy Bridge? A backup rifle for every pickup truck? A three-day supply of health insurance? It’s all up to you. —Jim WelpLet’s go serpent now, everybody’s learnin’ howScore another victory for natural selection over intelligent design. Linda Long, one of London, Ky.’s finest citizens, died after a rattlesnake she was handling bit her during services at East London Holiness Church. (The snake was reported in good condition after a gargle with some mouthwash.)Snake-handling is popular in some Kentucky churches despite being a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine, plus being totally, incredibly stupid. The practice stems from a passage in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus says a true believer can “take up serpents” without being harmed. Some scholars believe Jesus went on to say “when camels gallop out of my fundament,” but that clause was omitted from Mark’s Gospel during a tragic copy/paste error.Long, who was either not a “true believer” or not a “woman who can take her venom,” died four hours after the bite at University of Kentucky Medical Center. So, why does the commonwealth need a law that makes it illegal to handle rattlesnakes? Here’s why: Long was the seventh Kentuckian since 1980 to die from a religion-based snakebite. —Jim WelpContact the LEO news desk at citystrobe@leoweekly.com