REWIND: Dear Ed.


As relevant today as it was when originally written by the New Albanian in December, 2010, with one addendum: Clere recently commented on tolls to Marcus Green of the Courier-Journal, suggesting any concerns about them should be addressed only after toll financed project construction has begun.

Clere said once an exact toll plan is known — including rates — officials will be in a position to study how to ease the impact on businesses, students, low-income residents and others.

“That’s a discussion that we need to be having after the project is already assured and construction is under way,” he said.


December 21, 2010

 For the record: The following e-mail was sent to State Representative Ed Clere last Wednesday, just after the Tolling Authority’s “public input” debacle, and a day before the Authority ratified its foregone conclusion. During the “input” session, I enjoyed an unexpected chat with Mrs. Clere, and based on this exchange of views, it occurred to me to “reach out” (a faddish usage I detest, but which seems appropriate here) and see if communications might be resumed. I’ve heard nothing so far, but maybe this time will be different.

Note also that this tolling fight has only just begun, in spite of the Tolling Authority’s efforts to convince the public that its unelected dictates are carved in stone. Oatmeal’s more like it. The letter is followed by comments to the Tolling Authority submitted by myself and BG.

Good morning, Ed.

I needn’t remind you that we’ve not spoken lately. This has been a phenomenon I neither instigated nor sought, but history is precisely that. It is what has passed. We cannot change history, only rewrite it, although accuracy certainly is paramount when it comes to moving forward.

Let’s consider the topic of tolling existing Ohio River bridges as a means of financing the Ohio River Bridges Project.

I had the pleasure of speaking with your wife at Monday’s farcical public “input” meeting, and she assured me that both of you are opposed to tolling as a means of implementing the $4 billion transportation “solution.”

However, she added that because you were so busy with the campaign, and lacking time to familiarize yourself with tolling’s details, you’ve chosen not to speak publicly on the issue. I sincerely believe that (a) you have clearly spoken (see below) on the issue, and (b) apart from your answer to the Tribune’s question, your absence as we’ve debated the matter has decidedly not been in the best interests of your constituents. I told Amy this, and trust that she relayed word to you.

Personally, I believe that your linkage of opposition to bridge tolls with partisan political concerns was unbecoming considering your level of skill. It was both unnecessary and insulting to those many people, like me, who typically shun the vulgarities of both major parties. I believe that genuinely valuable time has been wasted, but I also believe that enough time remains, precisely because the future is not the past, and it’s never too late to start all over again.

Let’s examine your one public statement on tolling, in the form of comments to the Tribune/Evening News just prior to the election, in which you indicated with a fair amount of clarity that you in fact held (as yet hold?) a position, and that this position addresses tolling in only two contexts: As partisan politics, and as job creation. It is my contention that both these contexts ignore reality here, now, on the ground, and in the trenches, as has been made evident every day since the election was held by exponentially growing opposition to tolling.


“Special interests are trying to use tolls as a scare tactic to kill the bridges project altogether. Politicians have failed for decades to build the bridges, and I won’t use the issue of tolls to score cheap political points. There’s too much at stake, including tens of thousands of jobs. This isn’t a question of being for or against tolls. It’s a question of being for or against jobs, and I’m for jobs. I don’t want to pay tolls. I also don’t want to leave the bridges project as a problem for my children to solve. It’s our responsibility to find a way to move forward. I’m eager to see the financing plan the bi-state Bridges Authority will propose later this year. If the plan involves tolls, I will have the same questions and concerns as anyone else who lives here and uses the bridges. I won’t, however, take a position against something that hasn’t been proposed in a cynical attempt to win an election.”

Ed, there are so many questions to ask about this statement.

Am I to deduce from this statement that my opposition to tolling indicates that I am being manipulated by special interests?

If so, can you identify them?

Am I to deduce that the Democratic Party has compelled me to speak out?

Do you think for a moment that the 10,000 local residents and dozens of Hoosier businesses signing petitions against tolling did so because they were trying to influence the outcome of an election that already was decided?

When it comes to jobs, why must the concerns of these dozens of small Hoosier businesses – concerns derived from daily experience in the marketplace over long periods of time — that tolling will negatively impact their operations be almost entirely ignored in favor of accepting exaggerated claims of job creation that have been discredited time and again?

Doesn’t putting a small business out of business actually cost us jobs?

Who decides which of these jobs is most important?

A plan for tolling “hasn’t been proposed”?

As noted in my comments below, for as long as I’ve been attending meetings and observing the activity of the Bridges Authority, there has constantly occurred an activity for which the English language possesses no single word as accurate as this one: Lying. Officials stand directly in front of placards explaining the absolute necessity of tolling to achieve the project, look at you, and say there is no firm plan to toll.


Can’t you see that in your ongoing silence, you lend tacit support to this unabated nefariousness?

Ed, during the period of your silence, for whatever its reason, an anti-tolls movement has emerged that reaches across various and sundry aisles in a surreal way seldom witnessed hereabouts. I have sat in a room and found myself agreeing with tea partiers. Communists and fascists are sharing beers. More than a few local Republicans have confided to me their agreement that tolling is madness, even if they cannot bring themselves to say so publicly for fear of being blackballed by the same party (as a hint, an elephant as symbol) that preaches fiscal responsibility and non-taxation on perhaps every other topic except this one.

How can this be, and how can special interests manipulate folks on so many different sides?

As busy as you have been, and for whatever other reasons you have chosen to maintain distance, you cannot fail to have noticed the phenomenon. And yet, all that you have yet been able to say publicly about an issue of huge significance and cost that will impact your community for a half-century to come is the frankly dismissive and snarky passage quoted above, which surely – surely — is not indicative of your caliber of intellect, and the your capability of discourse.

Ed, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter whether you and I like each other, or if we get along. We needn’t consult an oracle to deduce that given my political proclivities, I don’t have a proverbial pot to piss in, and remain isolated in New Albany’s noted progressive ghetto, although better to live in obscurity than be forced to attend another Nurnberg rally like the one I endured on Monday.

But … in what amounts to lofty disdain for those in opposition to tolling, those mere “populists” who actually oppose tolling for the very same reasons that undergird your core political orientation, you are doing a tremendous, indefensible disservice to the community which only recently returned you to office. They are looking to you, and you are not there.

By all rights, this is your fight.

Where are you?


My “official” comment, as submitted to the Bridges Authority:

Personally speaking, I resent the ongoing, self-perpetuating lies about tolling, which have been representative of Orwell at his finest. When the placard on the wall says, in effect, “there must be tolls to support the project as constituted,” and otherwise sane Authority members look one in the eye and say, “no decision has been made about tolling,” it is an abomination that speaks to the existence of cognitive dissonance on a deep and perhaps unredeemable level.

Tolling will be injurious to Southern Indiana small retail businesses, and yet not a person connected to the Authority has considered studying what this effect might be until AFTER tolls are established. Don’t you think that’s important to know?

Even beyond tolling, the truth of the matter is that the ORBP is a 1950’s solution to 2050’s problems, entirely ignoring every other available option beyond automotive transport to “solve” mobility needs for the next 50 years. How is any of this a judicious expenditure of $4 billion?

A friend of mine says it best: “Build what we need. Build what we can afford. Build the East End Bridge. And see what happens.”

Raising a barrier to commerce in the form of tolls on existing Interstate and other infrastructure is madness. Do any of you sleep at night?

As usual, Jeff Gillenwater says it better:

The projections used to justify this project in its current form are not accurate. Population, job, and traffic growth rates are lower than predicted. There are regional mobility solutions that are cheaper, safer, more conducive to economic investment, that will create more jobs, and are environmentally much more responsible. That none of them have been seriously considered in direct comparison to ORBP is a disservice to the region and the nation, creating a false “all-this-or-nothing” dichotomy and necessitating rancorous dissent where reasonable discourse would have better served had initial, well researched public input efforts been responded to in kind. What you are asking is that the regional community spend the next several decades paying more than necessary for a project it neither wants (except the East End Bridge) nor best serves its long-term transportation needs. The conflicts of interest, both real and perceived, that led to this untenable juncture should be disclosed and reviewed right alongside readily available alternatives to this project. According to your own estimates, all that can be accomplished while the East End Bridge is being constructed utilizing traditional state and federal funding with no new sources of revenue – tolls, private investment or others – needed.