ON THE AVENUES: Bridge localism lesson boogie.


ON THE AVENUES: Bridge localism lesson boogie.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor. 

Last September, my first reaction upon hearing the Sherman Minton Bridge had been closed to traffic was intemperate panic, and my second was to be profoundly embarrassed for having ever panicked in the first place.

So it goes, and fortunately, it took only a few minutes to progress from the first response to the second, thus sparing my conscience a considerable amount of accrued annoyance, of which there was plenty falling outside my immediate zone of control without having to grapple with any more dissonance internally.

It didn’t take long to grasp that amid the wailing and flagellation, public morale actually does matter, and the Sherman Minton situation taught us that there are times when it is best to ignore the recently escalating American talent for tearful talk-show disclosures, and instead emulate the stiff upper lip renowned of our British cousins. It isn’t necessary to agree with Winston Churchill’s often repugnant conservative politics to recognize his talents as a unifying symbol amid the genuine chaos of wartime.

Taken as a whole, New Albany had sufficient resolve to acquit itself well, and even if the extent of the Sherman Minton situation was exaggerated in the beginning, most of us got it right in the end.

I persist in thinking it was shortsighted of local businesses, leaders and movers of any stripe to conflate the bridge closing with any notion of disaster, particularly using the enduringly aggravating “Shermageddon” tag in reference to what was an entirely imaginary apocalypse.

I might have grudgingly accepted “Shermageddon’s” usage had the bridge fallen into the river, but happily, it did not, and when all was said and driven, it was an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. Surely the real heroes of the closure were our Southern Indiana commuters, practically all of whom had no other transit options available except automobiles for use in reaching their jobs in Louisville.

Pathetically, they still won’t have options for the foreseeable future, and this neglected future transport tense is why it was sadly predictable (and as a bonus, often outrageously hilarious) to watch One Southern Indiana and other regional oligarch enrichment cadres rushing forward like so many smirking Keystone Kops, cynically leveraging the area’s mounting commuter ire by intensifying the propaganda broadsides in favor of their pathologically (un)necessary Ohio River Bridges Project — itself perhaps the ultimate in bloated, auto-centric “immobility solutions,” as meant to dictate regional development choices for the rest of our lives, and far beyond.

Did an off-line Sherman Minton Bridge under repair somehow “prove” the need for the ORBP?

No, but it amply illustrated the common-sense case for the East End Bridge component of the ORBP, while just as obviously explicating the sheer, breathtaking folly of another downtown bridge to be thrown merrily into the already bottleneck-laden scrum in that vicinity.

What’s more, five months of commuter pain resulted in something so obvious that we’ve already been saying it for years:

Having a modicum of discretionary choice, numerous Louisvillians chose to remain firmly ensconced on the Kentucky side, and to my knowledge, not once did we hear a Louisville eatery in the Highlands complaining aloud about the drop in business owing to the bridge closure. Meanwhile, far larger numbers of Hoosiers grappled with their daily, entirely non-discretionary delays to travel into Kentucky and accomplish nothing more than to arrive at work on time.

If this isn’t the best-ever, real-world argument against tolling, which if implemented will inequitably tax working Hoosiers in a regressive, unforgivable manner, I’m not sure what is.

But facts are the peskiest of irritants, and we can expect none of these considerations to lodge in the granite-set craniums of ORBP advocates, whose faith in the ORBP more closely pertains to mystical religious zeal than anything remotely objective in nature.

From a local markets standpoint, what I’m hoping will be the result of our five-month bout of bridge deprivation is an increased awareness of localism’s economic potential. We speak often of shifting, in the sense of changing ways of spending, thinking and doing, and surely a degree of shift demonstrably occurred during the time the bridge was out of service.

Although my optimism may be misplaced given New Albany’s fatal proclivity for territorial pissing, I continue to believe that lessons learned from the Sherman Minton’s convalescence will result in greater recognition of the possibilities inherent in ideas like those represented by New Albany First.

In part, this is because I believe in the utility of rising expectations, and crazily persist in thinking that the business owners doing the most to create jobs and revitalize the local economy are doing it at the small, independent, grassroots level, and should have a greater voice in economic decision-making commensurate with their greater achievements.

It’s as simple as that, and it isn’t necessarily a “political” pronouncement. Think of it as a pronouncement of personal intent during the coming months, because there’s been some measure of confusion, and I’m determined to allay it.

From its inception, New Albany First has been intended as an association of independent, local, small businesses, as defined by specific criteria – not as an arbiter of foreign-owned industrial park occupants, not as a dispenser of funding via Indiana’s enterprise zone legislation, not as a pillar of historic preservation, and not as the city’s designated event-planner.

Know this: Nothing that New Albany First might choose to do now or in the future threatens in any conceivable way these other worthy pursuits, as pursued by other variably useful community organizations. In fact, there is no reason whatever why all these aims cannot be complementary and coordinated, but this must be done in an atmosphere of shared equality; from the bottom up, and from side to side, but not from the top down.

2011 was compelling proof of top-down’s dismal Englandish failure, just as the portion of the year spent without the Sherman Minton Bridge in service was evidence that we must row in one direction when it comes to local economic development. It’s not about picking one winner and endowing it. It’s about improving the odds for as many potential winners as possible, using all the resources available.

Which tunes will we be dancing to in 2012?

Me? I like all kinds of music.