Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Postcard: Old Louisville

Comments Off on Postcard: Old Louisville
Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Louisville

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Aiming High at the Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Business Journal reported this week that the Indianapolis Zoo is planning to build a major new gorilla exhibit. (Unfortunately, this is not available online) I don’t typically talk about things like zoos, so why mention it?

As I’ve said repeatedly, if you want people to be inspired to stay in or move to your town, you have to have an inspirational vision to attract them. Few are attracted by a modest ambition or lack of vision. If you are just drifting along, then you aren’t going to attract people except by chance (birthplace, job transfer) or through some type of commodity measure (low cost). This is especially true of younger, talented, ambitious, creative people with big plans and big dreams for their lives. The affect of civic choices such as the Hotel Mundane, the race riots in Cincinnati, or the near collapse of the symphony in Louisville can’t be underestimated here, particularly for the signals they send to prospective residents.

So I was pleased to read about this gorilla exhibit. Great apes is one of the key missing pieces at the Indy Zoo. It was well designed when it opened, being the first zoo built from the ground up to keep animals in some semblance of a natural habitat, but did not have a comprehensive collection of animals. This $30-50 million project, coming on the heels of a revamped $9.5 million Oceans exhibit, would go a long way towards rectifying that.

What’s most notable about it though, and the reason I’m covering it here, is that the level of ambition for this exhibit seems to be significantly higher than what has traditionally been the case at the zoo, or a lot of other places in Indy. The zoo is looking to do something that will be clearly world class and a leader nationally and internationally.

Zoo President Michael Crowther was quoted as saying, “I can’t tell you if this is a $30 million project or a $50 million project. What I can tell you is that we’re not willing to design something that doesn’t change the world.” [emphasis added]. Change the world. That is certainly upping the ambition level. What if all local institutions had that as their goal? And please note, this applies equally well to any city as to Indianapolis. The location is less important than the concept. Crowther goes on to say, “We want this to be the most significant great apes center in the world. We’re making a statement for the city and what it can accomplish.”

Now talk is cheap, of course. And we’ll have to see what actually gets built. But Crowther is laying down a marker and staking himself and the zoo on the quality of this exhibit. That’s an important first step. If the words don’t set a lofty goal, it is virtual certainty the reality won’t achieve one. And he said some important things to me that indicate this is for real. For example, he didn’t talk about a specific budget. The amount of money needed seems to be an outcome of what they want to achieve, not a budget they have to live with, a hopeful sign. And they seem to be involving some of the right people, such as the designer of the new gorilla exhibit at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, long one of the premier gorilla programs at American zoos.

Incidentally, the Indy Zoo has seen an uptick in attendance and earned income in recent years. Attendance shot up from under a million to 1. 3 million in the last four years, this despite the zoo having some of the steepest admission charges in the country since it receives no tax support, and income rose from $14 million to $21 million. I don’t think it is an accident that this occurred at the same time that zoo leaders are stepping up with big plans to make their institution a world leader. Again, it takes an inspiring vision to inspire people. And obviously the public likes the ambition level the zoo is bringing. If other local institutions were similarly motivated, I’d expect similar results.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Super Duper 70

Remember all those articles predicting traffic horrors and the general end of life as we know it as the result of INDOT’s Super 70 project to reconstruct I-70 on the east side of Indianapolis? Well, as I predicted, the bark has proven to be far worse than the bite. I haven’t seen much of anything written about this since the project kickoff, except notably an article talking about how some east side businesses were surprised to see an actual uptick in sales as motorists now diverted through their neighborhood and past their storefronts instead of whizzing by on the interstate.

The critics were clearly wrong here and INDOT right. Super 70 is a great project and an example of leadership and innovation. This road is the busiest in the state of Indiana. A traditional reconstruction would have taken 2-4 years, leading to headaches year after year. But with Super 70, all the pain will be over in one construction season. This will pay huge benefits for motorists over the forthcoming years as they sail into downtown on new, smooth, safer pavement without a cone or construction barricade in sight. INDOT should look to apply these same techniques to other major forthcoming projects.

Super 70 comes on the heels of the wildly successful Hyperfix, which closed I-65 and I-70 through downtown for a month and a half to reconstruct that road. Again, getting it done quick minimized motorist pain. Others are now following the Hyperfix recipe as a successful template, including Kentucky, with the Restore 64 project in Louisville. Heck, the term hyperfix has now become part of the local vocabulary, used whenever complete road closures are implemented in order to speed up projects.

More good news. Just today it was announced that the state of Indiana is earning more interest on its toll road lease money than originally planned. Who knows how long this will hold up, but to the extent that it does, it will help offset inflation in construction prices. Indiana is one of the few states with a fully funded 10 year transporation plan. The main challenge facing INDOT is figuring out how to ramp up construction to get all that money out the door faster. That’s what I call a nice problem to have.

Super 70, Hyperfix, and Major Moves are all examples that show Indiana can be a national leader in transportation. Congratulations are in order to INDOT for making these great projects happen, despite a lot of opposition.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

More on Arts and Accessibility

Just a day after pointing out a great column by David Hoppe, I find more supporting evidence of how cultural institutions are reinventing themselves in order to maximize attendance, as opposed to focusing on their core artistic mission. This in the form of the Detroit Institute of the Arts $158 million renovation and expansion. The whole concept is to make the arts more approachable. Here’s a quote from the article:

The reinstallation promises to vividly alter how everyday visitors experience the museum, transforming the DIA into a populist hub for culture that strokes the masses without, the museum hopes, offending connoisseurs.

The mantra is accessibility.

Instead of relying on traditional art history, geography or chronology to organize the collection, the DIA is experimenting with themes and stories that connect the art to everyday life.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Cater to the masses and “hope” that you don’t offend the connoisseur. Later, we’re told how the museum is adding “kid friendly features”. Maybe they could rename it the Childrens’ Art Institute of Detroit.

What is the inspiration for this?

The DIA’s visitor-friendly philosophy grew out of a confluence of trends in the museum world. In the last 25 years, museums have become cultural malls serving audiences that are larger, more diverse and less arts-educated than ever. Attendance has soared, fueled by blockbuster shows, and education departments have grown to meet the needs of nonspecialists. Audio tours have become ubiquitous, as have outreach events like Friday Nights at the DIA and hip Web sites.

It’s nice to know that the DIA will now be a “cultural mall”.

This expansion has not been without its critics. For example:

Writing in the Metro Times in January, critic Christina Hill ridiculed the DIA’s plans, accusing the museum of talking down to its audience and arguing that paintings and sculptures are inherently interactive because when you look at art intensely, it speaks volumes.

The root of the DIA’s dilemma is money. The museum operates with a stunning $14 million per year deficit, driven largely be a decline in state aid from $16 million per year to $0. And the DIA has a comparatively paltry $100 million endowment. The financial realities of the arts today are a legitimate challenge that will require creative and non-traditional ways to address. The era when local corporations and rich individuals cut checks to cover the majors in some sort of quasi-aristocratic ritual are over. Most of those local corporations are now owned by even bigger out of town corporations, for example. The solution, however, is not to transform the arts into some pop entertainment operation. That’s just a going out of business sale where you don’t actually close the door. Rather, I again believe the root of the solution is in regaining the cultural vigor and self-assurance that these organizations once had.

Detroit’s problems are probably particularly severe because of the unique challenges facing that city. But I’d argue that the trend is one that is firmly entrenched around the country.

Comments Off on More on Arts and Accessibility
Topics: Arts and Culture
Cities: Detroit

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Impressions of Nashville

I spent a very brief Memorial Day weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. It was my first visit to the city. While I normally focus on Midwestern cities, Nashville and some others in the southeast are very much along the lines of what I would call “aspirational” cities. Of course, this is based on a too-brief visit, but let’s face it, first impressions matter.

Two somewhat contradictory things stand out in my mind. The first is that Nashville is a city on the make. Like many Sun Belt metros with heady growth, Nashville really has the feel that it is coming into its own, and has huge ambitions to shoot for the next level. On the other hand, the city is clearly underwhelming to see and visit, and I can’t see too many people being that impressed after just one trip.

The big ambitions part is made evident just from driving in on one of the area expressways. TDOT doesn’t even both with building six lane expressways. Everything they are doing goes straight to eight lanes minimum. This is the only place I’ve seen where roads go straight from a four lane rural interstate to an eight to ten lane mega urban one. And they are building these monsters well out into the surrounding areas. Clearly, they are expecting big growth and see having a first class freeway system as a big part of that. The roads also are a testament to growth, as there isn’t a classic beltway like you’d find in Midwest cities. Rather, there is a sort of inner loop fairly close to downtown showing that this used to be a much smaller place than it is today.

You also find a downtown with lots of new buildings, including a new arena and a new football stadium, each holding the pro sports teams the town was recently able to lure. (The Predators NHL team is being sold to a Canadian billionaire, and may shortly be headed out of town, however). Also, like many a city that is feeling that its time has come, Nashville is building up. Several downtown high rises are under construction. Most notable is the Signature Tower proposal, that would be 1000 feet tall.

You can see the enthusiasm in the mayor’s state of the city speech, where he said that Nashville is now in “the front of all American cities” and “The people of Nashville know we have been single-minded in pursuing what makes a city great”. Now, all mayors talk a good game. And I’ve criticized a lot of people for basically talking trash without the ability to back it up. I think the mayor is a bit over the top here, but you can get a sense of local enthusiasm and that locals believe they are really on the way up. We’ll have to see where it goes.

On the downside, Nashville is a classic, sprawling, Generica type of place. I’m sure there are nice neighborhoods in the old city I didn’t get to see. But the vast bulk of what you see if could-be-anywhere sprawl. I even found that the quality of much of this is not up to even low end standards elsewhere. For example, the friend I was visiting lives in a nearly new subdivision inside the limits of Nashville-Davidson, yet there weren’t sidewalks on both sides of the interior streets. Some cul-de-sacs didn’t have any sidewalks. What’s more, the perimeter of these developments often don’t have sidewalks either. I observed several sections of newly paved road as well, with curb/gutter/storm sewer, etc., but no sidewalks at all. Very strange. And don’t think my friend lives in a low end development, because that is not the case.

The downtown is filled with a mixed bag of developments. The traditional government/civic buildings are in a classical style. They even built a new symphony hall in a classical style, eschewing the modernistic trend that most places are following. I actually like classicism, but these buildings are only variably effective. The modern skyscrapers are all terminally dull, or else gaudy in a Singapore style way, flashy without much real architectural distinction. The iconic “Batman” tower is probably the best example of this.

The main tourist area has all the pluses and minuses you would expect. I guess I was shocked to find that not one of the clubs in the downtown district was featuring original music. I consider conver bands anathema, but at least these cover band joints had the decency not to charge a cover. The crowds were pretty thick in this area, but as with many similar sized cities, get a block or so away from the main drag, and the streets are nearly deserted.

Nashville on the whole strikes me as a city with a lot of potential, but one where an ethos of quality not just quantity needs to get instilled. The growth rate is starting to ramp up here, so we’ll just have to see where Nashville ends up.

Here are a few pictures I took downtown. As always, click the image for a full sized version.

The Batman building I mentioned earlier:

Classicism in action as evidenced by the imposing Tennessee World War Memorial.

And the Davidson County Court House:

And the Schermerhorn Center, the new home of the symphony. This building was criticized by a number of people for its classical style, but I personally think that’s a valid choice for the community to make. I think this is a handsome building. By the way, the Carmel, Indiana Performing Arts Center I have mentioned earlier is done in a similar style by the same architect.

The arena is not as successful.

The convention center is not attractive at all.

Nor is the Tennessee State Museum, which reminds me of a telephone central office.

No photo series of Nashville would be complete without a view of Broadway, the main tourist street, lined with old school honky tonks, souvenier shops, and platistic Elvis statutes. This is a broad street alright. The scale and architecture actually remind me of a small town Main St., and I mean that as a compliment. The actual size of the downtown touristic district is fairly small.

See also:

Nashville: Next Boomtown of the New South?
Pedestrian Deaths, Nashville Style

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Must Read David Hoppe Column on the Arts

I previously highlighted David Hoppe, a columnist at Indy free weekly Nuvo, as someone to read for arts coverage. This week he has a great piece about accessibility in the arts [dead link]. His thesis is that in the desire to make the arts more accessible, that those who truly care about them aren’t getting the quality they deserve. Some great quotes:

It seems that most of the arts administrators here are frustrated that such a small percentage of the adult population shows up for local arts offerings….The tactic has been to “reach out,” to play down art’s supposedly stuffy, snobbish image, to talk about how accessible the experiences on offer are in upbeat, reassuring tones….I think this is insulting to what is really the underserved audience here — people who actually know something about the arts. These folks are so hungry for the real thing they travel to other cities to experience what few venues in Indianapolis are willing to offer.


But the real problem is that trying to cajole the uninitiated into the arts tent will never really work. Telling them the arts are friendlier, softer, less intimidating and more fun than they think betrays a whiff of flop sweat. It also fails to identify what it is about the arts experience that might distinguish it from, say, a walk in the park or a trip to the zoo. This is no way to woo people that research shows place a premium on attending events of all kinds that promise the possibility of intensely memorable experiences.

What mystifies me is how most of our arts organizations continue to labor under the assumption that audience disinterest is based on audience ignorance, not on the products on display; that the arts organization’s job is to rally public support, rather than make real news in their chosen field.

Amen, brother. This was written about Indianapolis, but it could have been written about almost any city.

On the one hand, I can appreciate that arts organizations want a broad audience. And there are definitely financial realities that make the arts, like it or not, a business that has to sell tickets. But all too often breadth is pursued at the utter sacrifice of depth.

I really think it comes down to the fact that all too many people, including, unfortunately, those in the arts world itself, see the arts as a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. Notably, cities now tout the arts for their “economic contribution” to the city as a lure to use to get the “creative class” to want to move there. World class art is only valued to the extent that it generates headlines for the city.

I highlighted a great example of this earlier, in describing Kansas City’s edifice complex. They are spending enough on a new performing arts building to fund the operating budgets of the groups that would call it home in perpetuity and still have change left over for other things. Someone there obviously read about how statement buildings in other cities had boosted tourism and downtown development, and was eager to cash in. The actual artistic product is a sideshow.

It is also evidenced in Indianapolis’ love of “public art”. I am constantly reading about the amount of money that is being invested in public art, such as the new “marbles” installation to go on the cultural trail, but little about how good or not good any of this is. In fact, much of the public art that has been installed in Indy isn’t very good, nor does it say much at all about Indy. Most of what was installed along Mass Ave, for example, amounts to little more than random bric-a-brac. The point seems to be merely that it is there, and that it can be bragged about in promotional literature. The not very good Circle Truss proposal (which I addressed previously) falls into the same camp.

While it can make the local booster groups feel excited to be able to tally up all the local arts orgs, number of patrons, and other quantity over quality measures to put them into their promotional literature, don’t expect it to have much of an affect on getting the truly creative to want to live in a place.

I think instead that arts organizations ought to be focused squarely on a mission that stresses the quality of the product on the field. That’s not to say things like buildings should be neglected. They shouldn’t. Or that they shouldn’t market their products. They should. But this should not come at the expense of artistic excellence. In particular, a city’s flagship arts organizations ought to aspire to world class levels. And the “outreach” efforts should focus less on “exposing” more people to the arts, but on the much harder task of educating and converting the casual attendee into a connoisseur.

And as Hoppe points out, true excellence is what is going to inspire real excitement and loyalty in your patron base. A look at a any successful movement will show that it is very rare for anyone to attract passionate followers by watering down the message. If an arts organization doesn’t have the courage of its own conviction and, yes, a bit of proper pride in what they are doing, don’t expect anyone else to have much feeling about it either. Going around hat in hand begging people to attend some weak, least common denominator program is both disgraceful and not going to work. Constrast, for example, the self-flagellation of classical music with the self-assurance of the indie rock scene, which is equally if not more so pretentious and exclusionary. Only the traditional fine arts, it seems, are expected to apologize for being what they are. I think it is high time these groups stood up and said No to the nay-sayers and reclaimed the artistic and moral high ground with a robust, confident defense of their ideals.

Comments Off on Must Read David Hoppe Column on the Arts
Topics: Arts and Culture
Cities: Indianapolis, Kansas City

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Great Pedestrian Environments

There has been a trend recently to set pedestrian friendly in opposition to auto friendly. I will admit that I often draw that opposition myself. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Things can be both pedestrian friendly and auto friendly at the same time. Here are two great examples from Columbus, Ohio.

The first comes from suburban Delaware. Here is a sidewalk shot (for all images, click the image for a full sized version):

Notice how wide the sidewalk is. There is plenty of room to stroll, or for wheelchairs to pass each other. You also see sidewalk furnture and a trash can, a decorative brick treatment, a very wide one too, and trees. None of these added features reduce the very generous width allocated to pedestrians. Historic buildings built to the lot line make this a very pedestrian friendly environment indeed.

Here’s a view that shows the entire streetscape. Note the two lanes of traffic each way plus a parking lane (which also, incidentally, provided additional pedestrian protection). There are dedicated left turn lanes at intersections. This is an incredibly auto-friendly street as well.

Incidentally, this is Sandusky St. Delaware is laid out in a “Main St.” format as opposed to a courthouse square format, though there is a county courthouse for Delaware County also on Sandusky. I’ve always wondered how towns like this managed to build their downtowns with wide enough streets to accommodate four lanes plus parking. Them must’ve been some wide streets back in the day. I see places like this from time to time, including towns like Geneva and St. Charles in Illinois, and always wonder how they ended up this way.

Speaking of auto-friendly on a main street, here’s as Main St. as it gets, High St. through Worthington, a town on the north side:

Again, High St. is as main an auto thoroughfare as it gets, but is also a very pedestrian friendly artery, and nowhere moreso than in Worthington. Note again the extremely generous sidewalk width, buildings close to the street (but not too close!), on street parking, and a significant landscaped buffer protecting the sidewalk from the roadways. Sidewalk cafes cap it all off.

I think these examples show what you can do to combine pedestrian friendly with auto-friendly. The key here is generous ROW to enable wide sidewalks, a landscaped buffer zone, parking, and ample traffic lanes. ROW is often treated as a bad thing in new urbanist thinking, but too often roadways suffer from insufficient ROW rather than a surfeit.

Comments Off on Great Pedestrian Environments
Topics: Transportation
Cities: Columbus (Ohio)

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Hotel Mundane Facelift Announced

The long awaited refreshed design of the proposed Marriott Hotel complex in downtown Indianapolis was revealed yesterday. There had been a furor of anger erupt locally when the city picked this uninspired proposal over a more architecturally striking competitor. The city promised that the developer would go back and create a more striking design. You can read the background on this matter here.

I had both barrels of the shotgun loaded and was ready to lay into what I was sure would be terrible refreshed design. And yes, this isn’t good architecture by any stretch of the imagination. But it is better than I expected in a number of regards and represents quite an improvement over the original proposal.

Click on any images to enlarge to full size.

Here is the original proposal:

[dead picture link]

Here is an aerial view of the new complex design:

As you can see, what was a single, almost square tower in the original is now a longer rectangular tower oriented along West St. And a shorter, mirroring tower is being built on the west side of the lot.

This mitigates one of the major criticisms of the original, which was the tower would be like a huge wall blocking the view from Victory Field. Here’s an updated rendering showing the view from the ballpark.

And lastly here’s a site plan:

Let’s start with the positives. First and foremost is that contrary to my predictions, the main JW Marriott Hotel is going to have 1,000 rooms after all. That’s a big win given that the city had previously given Whiteco and out on building them. Upwards of 200 of these rooms will be higher standard than the rest. The ballroom was expanded from the original scope in order to generate additional demand for the rooms. There will be another 568 rooms in the complex, with a Courtyard and Spring Hill Suites in the west tower, and a Fairfield Inn rounding things out. With nearly 1,600 rooms all attached to a central ballroom, this creates a hotel complex that puts Indianapolis into different category altogether, capable of hosting much larger functions than previously, which would have been forced to look at cities like Atlanta. Also, while other peer cities are building 1,000 room hotels, I don’t know any that have a 1,600 room complex. Assuming the investment pans out for the developers, this looks like an economic win for the city.

From a planning perspective, the positives of this are that is is far more urban in form, respecting the street grid and addressing both West and Maryland Sts. in a way its predecessor did not. The Washington St. frontage doesn’t fare so well. The loading docks have to go somewhere, so it is difficult to complain about that, but the surface lot servicing the Fairfield Inn is probably not the best way to go. I’d like to see that lot axed, or at least moved behind the hotel. The developers would obviously complain that this would increase the length that guests would have to walk to the ballroom, but the Fairfield is hardly the upscale brand in the bunch. The water park, which would have encouraged a more self-contained complex, got the ax. And 24 condos were added to the top of the tower.

I have read some complaints that at 29 stories, the main tower isn’t tall enough. I’m usually less concerned about pure height, than around what a building does at street level. This is probably a bit of an improvement over the previous complex. Still, there are some problems. Washington St. was mentioned. But the Maryland St. side also looks like it is just a blank wall along the sidewalk. This would be a major miss and something should be done there. Sidewalk cafes or other linkages across the street to the ballpark might be nice. But whatever the case, a blank wall for close to two city blocks isn’t a good thing.

Architecturally, this is still as mundane as they come. Much like the refreshed design of the Simon Center, this is a very modest improvement at best. Again, it illustrates that Indianapolis has a long, long way to go to catch up even to its peer cities in understanding the importance of architecture and design to being a world class city. You can read my previous report on the original Hotel Mundane design and figure out pretty much what I would say about this one. It’s disappointing. And as I’ve said repeatedly, sets down a marker to the educated, ambitious, and creative that Indy is a mundane sort of place of modest ambitions and no commitment to excellence. There’s certainly no shame in that, but don’t expect it to be an inspiration to people to want to move there.

Monday, May 14th, 2007

The Kentucky Derby

I know the Kentucky Derby was a week ago, so my article is a bit late. Blame all those mint juleps I drank. I’m just now recovering.

The Derby is one of those things that is so easy to take for granted, or even in a way dislike. When you are a city that has an event of that international magnitude, it is something that, to a local, can almost seem like an obstacle to telling your story. Everyone thinks of Louisville as the Derby city, but doesn’t want to look beyond it to the great things behind it. Indianapolis with the Indy 500 is in a similar situation.

But at a friend’s party watching the race on TV, it really dawned on me how much exposure the city gets from it. I mean, the Queen of England came over to see the Derby, I’m sure with a small tabloid army in tow. People around the country and indeed around the world pay attention to this race, and not just for the great gambling opportunities. This is something that the Columbus’s and the Charlotte’s of this world just don’t have.

And what I nice Derby it was. The weather was great. Churchill Downs looked spectacular. The pageantry of the event was in full bloom. You couldn’t have asked for much more. Anyone tuning into that race on TV was treated to an extremely positive view of the city. And what’s more one that took place in a privately funded venue that actually pays taxes. How many other cities can make that claim?

For those of you who have never been, the Kentucky Derby is a great experience I highly recommend. The hard core partiers should probably head for the infield (better practice sneaking in your own liquor), or the more genteel, well-heeled among my distinguished readership can check out Millionaire’s Row. Whatever the case, I can virtually guarantee you’ll have a good time – as long as it isn’t raining! And after enjoying the Derby, stick around and check out the rest of what the city has to offer.

Comments Off on The Kentucky Derby
Topics: Civic Branding, Urban Culture
Cities: Louisville

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

INDOT’s Strange Priorities

I saw this interesting article where INDOT chief Karl Browning says that Kentucky has no money to replace the Ohio River bridge at Madison. This is a $500 million project which Kentucky is slated to pay most of. Indiana’s funding is in place. Kentucky is trying to build four bridges, and doesn’t have money for any of them.

I’ve long found the matter of bridge crossings and the connections to them of great interest – and evidence of some incorrectly set priorities at INDOT. In all too many ways, INDOT has been acting as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Start with the question of who pays for the bridges. Kentucky owns the Ohio River, and has been very zealous in defending that ownership. For example, unhappy officials in Louisville, Kentucky threatened to impound the Ceasar’s casino boat in Bridgeport, Indiana if it crossed the state line, which is only about 50 feet from the shore. So the responsibility for paying for bridge crossings is with Kentucky. Yet Indiana has established a precedent of splitting costs 50/50. And as far as I’ve seen they’ve never used bridge funding as a lever to, for example, negotiate over Ohio River ownership and jurisdiction, or much of anything else. Indiana has gotten no credit for this.

Now from a purely pragmatic standpoint you could argue that bridges benefit both sides of the river and so the costs should be split. Perhaps. But the value of the bridges, and the priority set in replacing them, is not evenly split. Consider, the first major bridge replacement done in recent times was to put a new span in Owensboro, Kentucky. The Indiana side of that crossing is a very sparsely populated rural area. Yet INDOT not only helped pay for the bridge, it is also dedicating $140 million in Major Moves money to build a four-lane connector from that bridge to I-64. This project has marginal benefits to Hoosiers and is almost exclusively for the benefit of a Kentucky city. Yet it is one of INDOT’s top priorities, getting funding while other much more critical projects languish. (If you really want to build I-69, for example, then here’s a good place to look for more money). Spencer County, where this road and bridge are, only has 20, 596 people in it. The cost of this connector adds up to $6,800 for every man, woman, and child in the county. If you gave the citizens of Spencer County a choice: this new road or a check for $6,800 each, I know which side I’d wager my money winning. I’m sure there is some theoretical justification for this route, but you could come up with something similar for any Indiana county. It’s really a question of priorities. INDOT here seems more interested in spending money on Kentuckians than Hoosiers. I rate this Spencer County project as the single worst in the entire state.

Moving upriver to Louisville, there is a huge program to build not one, but two new bridge crossings. The Indiana and Kentucky sides could not agree on where to build a bridge, so in the grand tradition of political negotiation, they decided to compromise and build both, an east end bridge linking I-265 segments across the river, and a new downtown span paralleling the Kennedy. Indiana agreed again to pay 50% of the cost of the bridges, even though the lion’s share of the people and the lion’s share of the benefits are to the Kentucky side of the river. The $700 million INDOT set aside out of Major Moves funds for this makes it the most expensive project in the state other than I-69. Just the ten year program portion of this is $5,400 per person in Clark County. Interestingly, INDOT just spent $250 million on a major widening program on I-65 there and just before that spent tens of millions more building an extension of I-265. Clark County never tires of complaining about how Southern Indiana is getting neglected by the state when in fact it is INDOT’s favorite place to spend money. This one modest sized county with low population growth is getting more money than Hamilton County – 2.5 times as big and with rocketship-fast growth – which has gotten virtually zero from the state in the last decade or so while INDOT was pouring funds into Clark County.

What’s more, the money INDOT set aside isn’t even enough. The latest estimates from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet put INDOT’s share alone at $1.2 billion – as much as INDOT is spending in Marion County under Major Moves, and vastly more than in Indiana’s other urban centers like Lake County, Allen County, etc. I’m sure all the people in Louisville send their thanks to INDOT. The investment in the Louisville region by Indiana is vastly out of proportion to the number of Hoosiers that live there. (That includes, incidentally, 90% of my family, so don’t think I have some particular hatred of the area).

Now come to the Madison bridge. Here’s an example where we see the opposite situation. There are a lot of Hoosiers and not as many Kentuckians. But this bridge, for some reason, INDOT isn’t willing to pay 50% on, should the article above be believed. It is also way down the INDOT priority list after the Owensboro connector and Louisville bridges. Of course it is also down Kentucky’s list too, since the KYTC actually focuses its money where Kentuckians live. Don’t expect to see a new bridge in Madison any time soon – at least not until all the bridges that benefit primarily Kentucky are built first.

And of course there’s the matter of Evansville, the largest Indiana city on the Ohio River. I-69, should it be built, will require another bridge crossing. But I’m not even sure if this is even in the pipeline. The article above mentions four bridges Kentucky is working on. I know there’s a Brent Spence bridge replacement in Cincinnati, two bridges in Louisville, and one in Madison. That leaves Evansville as the odd man out. While Owensboro residents will soon drive across their shiny new bridge and up a modern four lane highway to I-64 courtesy of Hoosier taxpayers, Evansvillians can only dream of a day when there will be another bridge crossing.

The rule of thumb for INDOT seems to be: where ever there the ratio of greatest Kentucky benefit to lowest Indiana benefit, that’s where the money should go. So it’s Ownesboro first, then Louisville, then Madison, and maybe some day Evansville. This is complete backwards thinking. How Kentucky conned Indiana into this behavior is beyond me.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures