Sunday, February 16, 2014

Governmental Pie-in-the-Sky

Using $465,000 of federal money and about two years of discussions in Lexington, Ky., transportation consultant Santec (hired May 2012) needs months more to decide which of Lexington's downtown streets must be converted from one-way to two-way streets, reversing the successful effort decades ago to undo the daily, numbing gridlock that made downtown an obstacle course. In the bargain, turn-lanes and actual on-street parking were produced. The horrific jams were ended.

It's obvious that no changes need to be made and if the city fathers/mothers listen to the citizens and vote accordingly none will be made. There's a small group of “important folks” who are determined to return the city to gridlock in order to make downtown more of a party-town, a fun/convention/sports/district, complete with an opened water-canal that was enclosed by concrete even more decades ago because it was...well, a water canal and a problem, just like railroad tracks that were justifiably removed.

The matter should have been settled by now, but there may be another fly in the ointment. The widest most easily traveled street is Vine Street. It actually has parking spaces and four-five lanes that allow passage through downtown in just minutes. The aesthetics-folks tried to get part of this street closed a number of years ago (another part as a street-park) and the commissioners actually gave the closing a first ordinance-reading. The citizens rose up and the matter has been buried ever since.

Santec's problem now may be that the aesthetics-folks have decided on something new, a complete renovation of Rupp Arena (seats 23,000 for basketball and has recently been renovated) and the convention center for a cool $310 million, especially separating Rupp (with those luxury boxes for the fat cats) from everything else. Vine Street is the main thoroughfare through the area. The picture of the complete project in the Lexington Herald-Leader of 11 February includes the naming of two streets, High and Main, but no mention of Vine, the most important and best traveled.

Indeed, the picture shows Vine not at all in the project. Rather, it seems to show a canal where Vine is now, and one can picture a boatman from Venice propelling the tourists over the short expanse of water. Nothing was said in the article, covering pages, about Vine Street or the colossal waterway (if that's what it is). It would be closed at the intersection with Broadway, and that closing would virtually demand that Main Street be returned to gridlock-land – one-way.

If this is the plan (and I don't know), though the mayor hasn't mentioned it or at least the paper didn't mention it, it's a sneaky way to once again try to thwart the citizens in their desire to be able to get around downtown without spending much of their time just sitting in traffic and also dodging the parking garages. The new plan includes yet another parking garage, this one underground.

Just the plans for renovating Rupp (one building) have cost $5.5 million at a time when the $22.5 million bond issue currently tied to the center is not scheduled for full discharge until 2021. So, better than $6 million have already been spent, without a feasible plan for financing the project in place yet. The governor has proposed $65 million in state-issued bonds but the legislature would be ill-advised to go for that and likely will not, with the state having a hard time even paying salaries and especially pensions.

Across Main Street from the Convention Center/Rupp is Victorian Square, a collection of shops and restaurants about to be completely overhauled. If the streets are returned to two-way status resulting in gridlock, the new owners might regret their decision. This result would also tie up everyone trying to get to ballgames at Rupp and anything at Convention Center, with parking a nightmare.

The Yum Center problem in Louisville provides a cautionary tale hopefully not too late for the learning. The highly ranked UL basketball team plays its games there and other activities take place. However, the bonds issued vis-a-vis that project have been downgraded to “junk” status. The Great Recession is still full-blown, notwithstanding glowing statements to the contrary. The actual unemployment rate of 13.1% is proof, not to mention inevitable new taxes to support both local and federal spending.

Doing nothing downtown will hurt nothing downtown, and saddling the taxpayers (who usually get stuck) with this new project is unseemly.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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