LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the next two decades, Metro Louisville should focus on maintaining and repairing existing roads and making streets more friendly to people on foot, in wheelchairs and on bikes.

The city also should help remove barriers to western Louisville by extending River Road and reworking the “9th Street Divide” that often is viewed as a wall between downtown and neighborhoods to the west.

And city officials ought to fill in gaps in a 2,200-mile sidewalk network, including in suburban areas with high TARC ridership, in order to make streets safer for pedestrians.

Those are among the priorities in “Move Louisville,” the $1.4 billion long-term transportation plan Mayor Greg Fischer unveiled on Thursday. It is meant to guide policy and spending through 2035, while acknowledging that tens of millions of dollars a year in new money is needed.

“Move Louisville will help us craft smarter policies and make more strategic investments,” Fischer said in a speech at TARC’s Regional Mobility Summit at the Frazier History Museum.

“I believe that fixing our existing streets and sidewalks, embracing premium transit and providing more complete streets with improved connectivity will give us a safer, healthier and more livable city – and that, in turn, will help us grow jobs and improve quality of place,” he said.

The plan deals a blow to prospects for light rail in Louisville. A line that would have run from downtown to the Gene Snyder Freeway along Interstate 65 was shelved in 2004 amid a fight over funding for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Several efforts to rejuvenate the idea have failed to gain political traction since then.

Move Louisville doesn’t recommend pursuing light rail, favoring instead the increased bus service planned for areas such as the Dixie Highway corridor. The “bus rapid transit” line between Dixie Highway at the Gene Snyder Freeway to the KFC Yum! Center could include dedicated bus lanes, for example.

“We lack the population density at this point to make light rail economically feasible,” Fischer said.

TARC director Barry Barker said it’s not a mistake omitting light rail from Move Louisville, calling it a “distraction.”

The estimated cost of accomplishing the plan is $1.4 billion, or about $70 million a year over the next two decades. Louisville now controls roughly $14 a year in state and federal funds, leaving an annual shortfall of about $58 million, according to city estimates.

Planners identified four ways to fill the gap. They include seeking more federal funds, managing work more efficiently, using grants to pay for 16 prioritized projects and finding new sources of money.

Fischer said he envisions a local option sales tax, which gives communities the ability to raise sales taxes to help pay for projects, as one approach. The tax is the mayor’s top legislative priority, but it failed to advance in this year’s Kentucky General Assembly.

“Clearly that would be a way to really jump start the plan because that generates about $125 to $150 million a year,” he said.

Fischer said he’ll work with the state, regional and local officials, including the Metro Council, to weigh funding strategies.

The plan will eventually go before the council and is scheduled to be adopted into the city’s new comprehensive plan.

Kevin Kramer, the council’s Republican caucus chair, said he hadn’t seen the report and or been briefed on it. Consultants and city officials involved in the plan spoke to council Democrats Thursday afternoon but didn’t appear at the Republican caucus meeting.

 “I think it would be nice if he’s going to go out and put out some major new initiative that he’d at least give us a chance to know what he’s talking about,” Kramer said.

But in response to a reporter’s questions, he said spending an additional $58 million per year raises “huge red flags.”

In all, Move Louisville recommends spending 45 percent of overall transportation-related money on fixing existing roads, traffic signals and other infrastructure; 35 percent on making streets more “complete” and other projects deemed priorities; 15 percent on bicycle and pedestrian improvements, such as shared-use paths; and 5 percent on new and other unnamed projects.

The new approach could lead to a local reduction of 500,000 vehicle miles traveled per day. But Jeff O’Brien, deputy director of the city’s advanced planning office, said those estimates apply only to traffic within Jefferson County and not trips across the Ohio River, including on new toll bridges set to open later this year.

Kentucky and Indiana are counting on tolls from steadily increasing traffic across the river to help pay off debt on the $2.3 billion project.

“We’re not looking at the traffic coming across the bridge from Indiana for the reduction of those vehicle miles traveled,” O’Brien said.

The plan now is open to public input, starting with an open house at 6 p.m. Thursday at TARC, 1000 W. Broadway. People also can submit comments online for the next two months.  

Setting priorities

Move Louisville recommends 16 priority projects. They include some that already are under way, such as making Dixie Highway safer for pedestrians and converting downtown streets for two-way traffic.

It also suggests “transit corridors” connecting Dixie to Westport Road, and along Broadway and Preston Highway. Barker said those corridors wouldn’t necessarily tax TARC’s existing system.

"If we can shorten the running time, everybody wins because folks get their earlier, we get more miles out of that bus,” he said. “You know, so we can increase the frequency simply because we can count on that bus making an extra loop per day.”

The plan also calls for bridges and other access to the Oxmoor farm property in eastern Jefferson County. Such infrastructure is "key to unlocking this
ideally situated undeveloped parcel of land," the plan says.

Metro Council member Bill Hollander, chairman of the council’s majority Democratic caucus, said the plan appears to “be well balanced across the community.”

“It’s a long-range plan. Obviously we have to figure out how we can do that, and we’re not going to have that tomorrow, but if we don’t set goals and make long-range plans nothing will get done.”

For his part, Hollander said he likes Move Louisville’s recommendations meant to reduce overall vehicle miles traveled. He noted, for example, traffic concerns on Frankfort Avenue in his district.

“If we can get people out of their cars, we can make that corridor even better and help it continue to grow. People like it but there’s pushback now about too much traffic,” he said.

Fischer touted the plan’s goal of making the city’s streets “complete” for all users. But cycling advocate Jackie Green said the plan fails to make roads safer.

“We need to fix these roads, the surfaces and maintain them,” said Green, a former candidate for Louisville Metro mayor. “But the next thing we need to do is calm the traffic.”

Green proposes a maximum speed limit of 25 miles per hour in urban areas.

“We don’t have the money to redesign and rebuild, but we can slow the traffic down.”

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