Unless you’ve just awakend from a lengthy coma, you are doubtless aware that the discovery of a few cracks in the Sherman Minton Ohio River bridge has delivered Louisville and southern Indiana into traffic chaos of biblical proportions. As expected, the political class has responded with simultaneous calls for nonpartisan cooperation and enthusiastic finger-pointing.
On Wednesday, our colleague in The Arena, the estimable Keith Rouda, penned an article titled Should the Sherman Minton be renamed the Yarmuth-Minton? Suggesting that Louisville’s 3rd District congressman, Democrat John Yarmuth is some sort of hero for jumping in front of television cameras covering our bridge disaster, Rouda says, “Yarmuth is getting people thinking about the implications a costly repair, or even a permanent closure, could have on the area's 30 year struggle to build two desperately needed additional bridges.”
Adopting the prevailing Democratic policy of never letting a crisis go to waste, Yarmuth was quick to spot an opportunity to hustle some support for President Obama’s latest stimulus scheme, The American Jobs Act. Sure, the last two “stimulus” bills were supposed to be for infrastructure repair and “shovel-ready” projects; even though much of the dough was boondoggled into failing “green energy” scams. But let’s all get together behind the President just once more—for a paltry half-trillion—and we will be able to save both the economy and Kentuckiana commuters with one swell foop.
Well, “not so fast,” says Yarmuth’s congressional predecessor, Anne Northup. The Republican former Third District Congresswoman flew in from her job in Washington D.C. and indicated to WHAS-11’s Joe Arnold that Yarmuth is less a part of the solution than he is a part of the problem. Looking at the Interstate-64 traffic turning Interstate-65 into a bumper-to-bumper parking lot, Northup said, "I have to think that everyday people are stopped in gridlock, they are going to be saying somebody has got to do something about this. The fact is, there is no leadership on this project, because without a champion everyday knitting the pieces of this together, it falls apart.”
Northup faults Yarmuth for failing to provide that needed leadership, and reminded us that she had arranged for $775 million in preliminary financing for the Ohio River Bridges Project prior to her electoral defeat by the Democrat in 2007. Once Yarmuth took office in 2007, funding and consensus for the Ohio River Bridges Project evaporated because of his relative lack of support for the project, Northup said. During Yarmuth’s three terms in congress, the Bridges Project has stalled; and some suggest the cause is his close relationship with the River Fields board of directors, on which he once served.
WHAS-11’s Joe Arnold talks with Anne Northup
Then, yesterday, like a knight in shining armor on a white charger, came Humana co-founder David Jones, Sr., with an offer to put up $10 million to start construction of a new eastern bridge. Mirable dictu! A private sector corporate entrepreneur coming to the rescue of a broken bridge and a broken political system to suggest a little old fashioned “Get ‘er done” Kentucky logic.
And what did our Democratic Mayor, Greg Fischer have to say in response to this generous offer? Um, we’ll have to take a long look at it: "I share the frustration with the delays caused by the closure of the Sherman Minton and the many decades our community has been trying to start the Ohio River Bridges Project. Within the past few months, Gov. Beshear, Gov. Daniels and I have reduced the cost of the project by $1.2 billion. Within the next two weeks, the inspection of the Sherman Minton is expected to be completed, at which time we will understand the various options our community faces. In the meantime, the two governors and myself, along with key legislative leaders, will work overtime to ensure the bridges project is on track to start construction in Fall 2012. These bridges are about jobs - not just construction jobs - but jobs for the broader regional economy. The relevance of our city and region as a center of logistics and transportation are at stake."
Before this mess is resolved, the rhetorical B.S. generated by the political process will predictably equal the breadth and depth of the Ohio River itself. It appears that there are some necessary functions of government that are just too important to be left in the hands of politicians. And building bridges is one of them.
Is it premature to suggest that our first new bridge in a half-century be named the “David Jones, Jr., Memorial Bridge?”
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).