LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Welcome to the land of the free, and the home of the cheap. Americans have started taking this "Land of the Free" line much too literally. We want all the things that have made this the greatest country in the world; we just don't want to pay for them. I've been following the drama over deciding how to pay for two new bridges across the Ohio River and the proposal to pay for the project with bridge tolls has brought a cry of anguish. After all, this is the "land of the free."
The government is supposed to build us two free bridges and our investment is watching construction. But wait, that government is trillions of dollars in debt and just got a strong message from voters to lower taxes and cut spending. Taxes are bad. Tolls are bad. The national debt is horrible, but bridges should be free. And Spaghetti Junction should be free, freed of the tangle of vehicles it hosts every morning and evening.
Spaghetti Junction already had its silly nickname and insane traffic problems when I first saw it in 1984 and in more than 25 years, it has not changed one bit. It is still an engineering calamity of trucks that tip over on curved ramps combined with half hour waits to cross the river at rush hour. And I repeat, nothing has changed. No one has ever discovered the funding or the political spine to change what was inadequate when it was built.
Now, it's suggested that we might finance this project with a $1 toll and that's causing heart attacks on both sides of the river. Well, if we want a bridge or bridges, how do we pay for it? Here's the shocker – bridges aren't free.
Back in the 1960's, Kentucky built a system of parkways but they placed a toll booth about every 40 miles. For 20 years, it cost about $3.50 to drive from Louisville to Paducah. I made the trip a lot and tossed a lot of coins in the hopper. One day, the tolls went away and we still have the parkway system, and maybe without the tolls we'd still be making that long drive to western Kentucky on a two-lane road.
You get what you pay for. Kentuckiana is already 30 years behind the times with our local highway system and if we wait for a "free bridge," Spaghetti Junction will probably look the same 25 years from now.
It's clear we have problems. We want lower federal income taxes, but we want to balance the budget. We want a diverse school system, but we want our children to attend the school across the street. We want two new bridges and a first class interchange, but we don't want to contribute a cent, or a dollar, a trip. The funny thing is, once Kentuckiana gets its arms around a project, like the downtown arena, we find a way to finance it and eventually we love the thing.
I'm sure we'd love new bridges if only we could find the courage to take a risk and make an investment in the future of our metro area. I've always thought that I would never see a new bridge, and I probably won't unless the community discovers some courage to act.