November 27, 2007

Is 8664 an option? The group behind the bridges alternative releases a study, and an expert says it’s legit

In the elevator to the third floor of City Hall last week, a middle-aged blonde woman bearing no outward partisan signs asked me whether I was there for the “big hearing.” That would be the one where members of the Metro Council finally heard an expert speak to the merits of 8664, the proposed alternative to the Ohio River Bridges Project that would replace a stretch of I-64 with a waterfront boulevard and reroute heavy traffic around the city’s core. Most of us have wanted to hear something more legitimate about it for, I don’t know, two years. “Sure am,” I replied. “Why else?”“Me too,” she said. “It’s about time they talk about this.”“Yeah. But it’ll just get drubbed by the Bridges Project hacks,” I said. “They’re well-funded.”“Well, that may be true. I’m just happy it’s reached another level. Who are you here with?”“I’m media. LEO.”“Oh, that’s cool.” “Yeah. There’s no reason to cover this thing straight anymore, if there ever was,” I said. “Honesty and full disclosure are up against a lot on this issue — The C-J, the mayor, most of the business community. It’s sad.”“I know,” she said.A couple minutes later I arrived at council chambers to find the place jammed, standing room only, but no one was holding signs. No one was wearing 8664 T-shirts. A few people had notebooks in their laps. Other media looked dutifully prepared to focus TV cameras on round one of Ali-Frazier, a romp that may challenge the establishment to reassess its cars-only vision of the future of Louisville.Walter Kulash speaks slowly and without perceptible enthusiasm. The retired traffic engineer with more than three decades of experience thinks in a forward way about how we humans move ourselves over pavement and concrete. He believes, for instance, that creating more capacity for cars will, over time, encourage more driving in an area. Quite obviously, history has borne this out. He’d like to stop the kind of planning that allows for it. Tyler Allen and J.C. Stites, the purveyors of 8664, hired Kulash to determine whether their vision is feasible. They began meeting with him in earnest around last September, when Kulash was in town as a featured speaker of a large-scale conference on smart growth, sponsored by the Bridges Project. Kulash’s forward thinking was lauded by many there.Lately, Kulash has been working with state departments of transportation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on “right-sizing” major road projects, scaling them to meet increasingly tight budgets. He says 8664 is feasible. “It is every bit up to the same (engineering) standard as the Bridges Project,” he told the five-person committee, some of whom were skeptical. Here is why, according to the feasibility study that Allen and Stites will publicly release Wednesday:1. Their vision of an East End bridge follows exactly what has already been laid out by the Bridges Project, requiring no deviation from the plan in place2. Removing I-64 from Spaghetti Junction (and dropping it to a surface-level boulevard) cuts in half the number of movements one could make under the redesign, from 16 to eight. In doing this, it also untangles the complicated interchange3. 8664 increases “long-term cross-river transportation mobility needs,” as required by the Bridges Project, by removing significant congestion points in Spaghetti Junction and rerouting through traffic over the East End bridge, both of which would reduce traffic on the Kennedy Bridge. Much of that is caused by congestion in Spaghetti Junction4. It meets nearly all of the capacity standards the Bridges Project claims it would meet (see graphic)5. It sits within the current environmental footprint of the Bridges Project, which Kulash said would ensure easier federal approval (a matter of months). In fact, Kulash said traffic modeling using the same techniques as the Bridges Project would take only weeks6. 8664 offers an opportunity to lay groundwork for more extensive public transit downtownLouisville is one of only two spots nationwide with a triple-interstate interchange; the other is Anaheim, Calif. As well, there are seven completed interstate-removal projects in America, six in process, and 24 being proposed. And 8664 would cost $2.2 billion, almost half of the $4.1 billion Bridges Project. “I’m just glad right now that we’re having an opportunity in an official forum to actually have a community dialogue,” Allen said Monday. “Despite the claims about the current Bridges Project, most people we’ve talked to for three years have no idea what’s coming with the Bridges Project. So how can that be a community consensus?” There isn’t one — that is, unless you’re talking about the elite community. More than 11,500 people are aligned with 8664 through its Web site. So far, no engineers have stepped into the political fracas to challenge what Kulash and the study have said. As well, no prior study has been done on 8664 or similar ideas. An attorney for the Bridges Project, Tim Hagerty, is the only one to have publicly challenged Kulash’s presentation. That’s like saying a scientist and a televangelist are equally qualified to talk about evolution. You see that sort of “discourse” in mainstream media every day. But does that make it legit? Contact the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com