(WHAS11) The Louisville Metro Council is adding its voice to a call for action on construction of the east end bridge.
"We simply cannot afford any more delays," said Council member Robin Engel (R) at a Tuesday news conference. Engel is chairman of the council's Transportation, Bridges and Infrastructure Committee. He was flanked by a bipartisan coalition of ten other council members and civic leaders calling for River Fields to drop lawsuits against the Ohio River Bridges Project.
"The time for talk, delay and lawsuits is over," said Council member Cheri Bryant Hamilton, co-chair of the committee.
"There is no injunction associated with River Fields' appeal, so there is no obstruction," argued Lee Cory, President of River Fields Board of Trustees. "This is all a smokescreen to make us the scapegoat for their failure to come up with a funding plan and the money."
With the Sherman Minton Bridge closed for a 12th day, the coalition wants elected leaders and the public to call on President Barack Obama to add Louisville to his Midwest itinerary on Thursday and an emergency declaration to jump start construction.
"Take a stand on this issue and demand that the bridges project immediately move forward," Engel said.
The non-binding resolution alleged that River Fields' legal actions serve only to obstruct progress.
"I can tell you that we're not going to drop the lawsuit just because people are pounding their fists demanding that we do so," Cory responded.
The environmental group's suit charges that the bridges project has not followed federal law and protocol to prove that an east end bridge is needed.
"If the new supplemental Environmental Impact Study presents new facts that would support the building of an east end bridge, we would certainly re-evaluate our position," Cory said, "but until the facts change, we are standing by our position."
The two sides are looking at the same Sherman Minton crisis but reaching two very different conclusions.
"I would hope that the chances have increased for building a downtown bridge first," Cory said.
"They are not the majority in this community, and they need to understand it," said Rebecca Jackson, former Jefferson County Judge-Executive and head of Kentuckians for Progress, an east end bridge advocacy group that has targeted River Fields.
For decades, no new Ohio River bridges have been built as the battle has simmered. The Sherman Minton closure has moved the project to the front burner and - with President Obama visiting a Northern Kentucky bridge on Thursday - the debate is at a full boil.
"Mr. president. we are a community in crisis," Jackson said.
"Bring a shovel or we'll lend him one," said Humana co-founder David Jones.
"And if he puts a spade in the ground all that is holding it up will disappear," Jones added, saying that two other business leaders have also offered to loan millions of dollars to the bridges project to get it started. Jones made a $10 million loan offer last week.
Jones said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer should demand that Mr. Obama come to Louisville. Instead, the mayor said he will meet the president in Northern Kentucky to discuss the Sherman Minton closure and the Ohio River Bridges Project.
"Whether or not the president comes is not the focus of what we need to do as far as this project is concerned," said David Tandy (D) Metro Council, a supporter of the resolution and key Obama supporter in Kentucky.
To backers of the bridges project, the timing of the president's trip and the Sherman Minton closure is a golden opportunity - after 52 years of talk - to get the east end bridge built.
"We have to do whatever it takes," Jones said.
"I don't think the Sherman Minton bridge closure and River Fields' position on the Ohio River Bridges Project are linked," Cory said. "Our next step is to do just what we've been doing."