Early last week, One Southern Indiana President and CEO Michael Dalby made his first major local policy statement in the Evening News & Tribune – and it was a bona fide head-scratcher that read more like a press release from Rep. Mike “Hot Wheels” Sodrel than a chamber of commerce leader’s position on an important topic.
One SI head refutes effort to alter bridges; Dalby calls 8664.org plan ‘an afterthought’, by Larry Thomas (News-Tribune).
A grassroots call to make major changes to the Ohio River Bridges project has come too late and would have little benefit to people living north of the Ohio River, according to One Southern Indiana President and CEO Michael Dalby.
… “What they’re asking for would take us back to square one,” Dalby said. “We don’t advocate that. This isn’t just a political issue. It’s not just an issue of finances. It’s an engineering issue.”
Dalby said any major change to the Ohio River Bridges would likely delay what he called “a key element in the future economy of this region” …
I asked my NA Confidential colleague Jeff “Bluegill” Gillenwater to help me understand why Dalby’s newspaper statements about 8664 were so troubling, and as I’ve come to learn since first meeting Jeff two years ago, not only could he explain the issues to me in clear and concise fashion, but he’d already done so in a letter to the Tribune and Evening News.
It was published as a guest column on Friday. Here’s a reprint.
I would like to thank The Tribune and Evening News for bringing the public’s attention to the rather stunning lack of vision recently expressed by One Southern Indiana President and CEO Michael Dalby. With regard to the 8664 initiative, Mr. Dalby stated that the 8664 plan to correct rather than augment the 50-year-old I-64 mistake that separates Louisville and the region from one of its most extraordinary resources was “not of benefit to anyone in Clark and
Floyd Counties. It seems to be of much greater benefit to the Louisville riverfront”.
Anyone with an even superficial understanding of our region knows that the economies, cultures and histories of Jefferson and Clark and Floyd Counties are inextricably linked. Our markets share labor and other resources. Cultural and recreational attractions are enjoyed and supported by residents and visitors of both sides of the river. Mr. Dalby’s suggestion that there’s no real Indiana consequence to the way in which we physically connect to each other is extremely shortsighted.
Thousands of Clark and Floyd countians cross the river each day for both business and pleasure. If the number of traffic decision points is reduced from the current 24 to 8, as proposed by the 8664 plan, it will be Hoosiers who enjoy a simplified and safer downtown interstate system on a daily basis. If the 8664 plan spurs an economic revival in downtown Louisville as it has in other major cities where waterfront expressways were removed, it will be Hoosiers competing for those jobs. If downtown Louisville and its waterfront become a more popular destination owing to the removal of an ill-advised concrete monstrosity, it makes it that much easier to market the historic downtowns of Jeffersonville, Clarksville, and New Albany, where revitalization efforts are already making headway, as nearby centers for residential and commercial redevelopment, particularly when the Greenway project further connects our respective riverfronts with walking and biking trails.
A review of recent economic development literature, of which a person in Mr. Dalby’s position should be keenly aware, reveals that access to talented labor pools increasingly outweighs more traditionally considered factors such as natural resources or even tax abatements when businesses decide where to locate.
That same literature also shows that well-educated knowledge based workers tend to choose where to live based on the lifestyle amenities offered by various cities and regions, including recreation and entertainment opportunities, proximity to cultural and educational institutions and transportation situations with a strong preference for urban dwelling. Does it make economic sense then to spend billions of dollars making our urban neighborhoods and public spaces on both sides of the river less inviting to that business-attracting labor force?
By supporting the 8664 plan, Southern Indiana would not only be making the more developmentally sound choice, but saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. As 8664 co-founder J.C. Stites recently pointed out in this publication, the money saved by not building an additional downtown bridge and accompanying connections would build TARC’s proposed Transportation Tomorrow light rail system three times.
While the current T2 plan is focused on Louisville, most Southern Indiana residents (and perhaps Mr. Dalby) would probably be surprised to learn that there was a study done in the late Sixties, very near the time of waterfront I-64 construction, showing how Clark and Floyd Counties could be connected with Louisville via light rail using largely pre-existing tracks. While both that idea and that infrastructure lay mostly dormant, our communities are about to waste huge sums of available transportation funds to recreate the mistakes of that time period, apparently with Mr. Dalby’s support.
As he’s new to the area and his current position, it would be unfair not to recognize that Mr. Dalby must be under substantial pressure to please remnants of the old guard left over from previous iterations of One SI. 8664 presents Mr. Dalby with an opportunity to prove himself beyond those bounds and to show that the notion of change that created his position will not be wasted.
If he continues to ignore that opportunity, though, and simply continues the repetition of defeatist refrains with which we’ve all become too familiar, the real “key element in the future economy of this region”, namely our ability to attract and retain those with the intellectual capital to create positive change in Southern Indiana and Louisville, will be the “afterthought” to which he refers.