An extended excerpt is merited. Johnson and Kapfhammer say it out loud, while over at the Clere Channel Network, the crickets chirp.
The business end of the bridges project; Local owners fear traffic changes, but dread tolls, by Braden Lammers (N and T)
FOCUS REMAINS ON TOLLS
“My biggest concern is tolling,” (Jim) Keith said. “I think it just dissects the heart of a community.”
Wes Johnson and Mike Kapfhammer, co-owners of Buckhead Mountain Grill and Rocky’s Sub Pub — both of which are located on Riverside Drive — agreed that tolls were their biggest concern. Both have been proponents of the No 2 Bridge Tolls organization, which opposes tolling on the downtown corridor.
Johnson said there is no question if tolls are installed on the downtown bridges there will be an impact to their restaurants and all Southern Indiana businesses. No approval from the Federal Highway Administration has been returned yet on what structures can and cannot be tolled related to the Ohio River Bridges Project.
“When you finance that bridge with tolls, the majority of that falls on our little community,” Kapfhammer said. “Within two miles here, our little community is going to get hammered.”
Keith said he is worried about what tolling the bridge will do to local tourism by placing a toll on one portion of an interstate that runs from Chicago to Alabama.
“This is the only place the road is tolled,” he said. “It creates an obstacle. I have yet to have anyone tell me, for visitor spending, what is the advantage for tolls,” he said. “I think from an economic development standpoint, it’s going to create a barrier; maybe forever.”
Keith added that tolls will affect the number of people that come to the region for various reasons but choose to stay in Southern Indiana instead of Louisville. He said spill-over from Louisville conventions is often a way in which Southern Indiana hotels fill up their rooms. But with tolls on the bridges, Keith is concerned that those who come into town for conventions will be unwilling to travel back-and-forth across a tolled bridge, stay in Southern Indiana hotels or even patronize restaurants in Jeffersonville and Clarksville.
“They may not choose to leave the state of Kentucky,” he said. “We don’t have any way of countering it.”
There is also a concern that once tolls are installed on the bridges, there will be an unwillingness for many to cross the river for a job. For the metropolitan area, the Indiana side of the river constitutes about 20 percent of the employee pool in the region, Keith said. He is concerned about what businesses will do to attract employees that could get a similar job in Louisville — if they will offer employees extra pay or pay for their tolls. While it was admitted there will likely be a benefit on the east-end, with the development of River Ridge, the expectation is that there will be negative consequences along the downtown corridor.
“I think the bigger fight, for us, is what it does to the people of this community,” Johnson said. “It’s just going to be devastating to this community, there’s just no way around it. What’s getting missed is the stories of the people that live in Clark County where the average wage is $34,000 … when you put that barrier up there for them, you are going to tax them to death. They will literally not be able to live life the same way.”
He cited a majority of the people that cross the bridge are Indiana residents, who will end up paying the largest portion of the tolls.
“The representation that we were supposed to have … that were supposed to look out for the best interests of Southern Indiana, failed to look out for the best interests of Southern Indiana,” Johnson said. “If they were looking out for the best interests of Southern Indiana, we wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in. Somebody would’ve stood up and said, ‘you can’t treat our community this way.’ The littlest guy, with the littlest voice gets picked on here, and everyone else is willing to look the other way.”
“It’s shameful,” Kapfhammer said interjecting.