ORBP Part 2: Oh the people you’ll meet!

Curtis Morrison of 'Say No to Tolls'

All personal sentiments aside, (See ORBP Part 1 for my own existential crisis caused the event) over the course of two community forums this week, interested and interesting parties on both sides of the debate managed to vocalize a wide range of opinions on the latest incarnation of the Ohio River Bridges Project in a largely civil fashion that should leave us proud of our fellow citizens.

Tuesday night’s event at the Holiday Inn on Hurstbourne Parkway drew about 250 total people, 50 of which registered to speak during the forum. Of those that did speak, many (roughly to 2 to 1) tended to echo the sentiments of Louisville native Bob Barnes, who told me, “We have to build the East End Bridge soon, then figure the rest out,” but amongst them were also those of the mindset of local attorney Kendrick Riggs, for whom the Ohio River Bridges project represents an economic stimulus that the community desperately needs. “We have the political will now, ” Riggs said, suggesting that to pass up on this opportunity to complete the project would potentially push things back another couple of decades.

In a press release on the event from ‘Say NO to Bridge Tolls‘, that organization’s Communications Director Curtis Morrison (pictured at the top of this article) noted that “The first speaker was a college professor who asked that the Bridges Authority consider how tolls would add an extra fee to students who could least afford such a cost, especially due to the recent increased tuition expenses,” while Marcus Green of the Courier Journal noted the comments of Jeff Conder, a VP for Jim Beam who asserted that the current state of the downtown exchange costs his company in terms of delays and safety concerns.

Embedded above is a 14 minute video from the Ohio River Bridges Project offered as a full explanation of the new modified alternative plan and its purported benefits. What remains conspicuously and yet understandably absent from the organization’s website is the latest in the continuing saga of official/unofficial (still confused on this point) pro-bridge mascot Benny Breeze, who appeared at both forums via a video produced by HiHo productions. Featuring the fictitious concerned citizen sounding off next to an ashtray of cigarette butts and what appears to be a half-empty pint of beer, the video has raised some controversy. CJ’s Marcus Green follows up on the video here, as well as a great clip from WLKY’s youtube channel: Short Film Sparks Debate at Ohio River Bridges Meeting.

Speaking with ‘Say No to Tolls‘ representative Curtis Morrison, he was eager to compliment local citizens for their, “courteous, civil, informative, and for the most part, respectful,” participation in the forums, as well as local media outlets, who in his opinion have done an exceptional job at covering the issues. Of course, he was also eager to share his major personal concerns, in three parts:

First and foremost, he sought to point out what he perceived as an “undeniable backwardness” of the proceedings at hand, in which local citizens were being asked to share their opinions on an pre-developed plan, as opposed to the other way round. He went on to share concerns on the extent to which the project will be privatized, a sentiment echoed by ‘Say NO to Tolls’ co-founder Dan Borsch in his address to the forum (see below). And finally, in what he admitted was a much more specific concern, he pointed out his personal disappoint as a Southern Indiana native that south-bound access across the second street bridge for a no-toll option will be downsized from three lanes as it stands now, to two (one of which will have stoplights) in the finished form of the modified alternative project. Morrison said, “If you’ve ever tried to cross the 2nd St. Bridge from Indiana during rush hour you know how backed up it can get and this will only make that worse.”

'Say NO to tolls' co-founder Dan Borsch

As already alluded to, the greatest takeaway from this week’s community forums in context with the ongoing bridges saga is that there are a great number of citizens of Kentucky and Southern Indiana prepared to take a personal stake in the project. Amongst other notable participants, the Courier Journal quoted Dea Riley (Independent Lt. Governor Candidate on Gatewood Galbraith’s ticket) as saying, “Tolls are never part of an economic development project…They are what they are. They’re a tax. They’re a user fee,” but as the press release from  ‘Say No to Tolls’ asserted, “No speakers indicated a bridge should not be built. And, all speakers indicated the project should be built sooner and not later.” What is clear is that almost everyone is of the mind that something need be done. A viable option to satisfy all parties remains illusive.