Building a Better America

bridge-workersMore than 16 years ago, I left journalism, moved to Louisville and began a new job focused on getting the region’s citizens involved in determining how and where to build new bridges across the Ohio River.

Later this week, half of the Ohio River Bridges Project will come to an end. Bridges named for two of America’s finest presidents will carry six lanes of traffic in opposite directions.

With masterful design improvements and countless tons of concrete, steel and asphalt, engineers and construction workers have taken out much of the “spaghetti” and restored “function to the junction.”

Next month, the East End Bridge will provide a brand new connection that will transform the region forever in ways we may not fully understand.

At this crossroads in the history of our community and country, it seems fitting to ask: “Why did it take so long?” and “How can we build a better America faster?”

The answer to the first question is simple: money and courage.

The governments of the United States, Kentucky and Indiana could have built the project much sooner, but federal gas tax revenues haven’t kept pace with the pressing need to invest in both old and new infrastructure. With the stalwart support of the region’s business community, two governors of different parties had the courage to fill the vacuum and push the project forward with alternative financing and funding – namely tolls.

The answer to the second question is the same – money and courage – and might just be answered over the next four years.

After decades of deferring on infrastructure, Washington seems poised to finally make it a priority. The presidential nominees of both parties, who disagreed on much, agreed they would build bridges, build roads and build America. And with one party in power in the White House and in the Capitol, it’s hard to imagine a better scenario for the same kind of courageous, long-term decisions that President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress made in the late 1950s in building the Federal Interstate System.

To make a better America, politicians of both parties will need to embrace funding approaches they have avoided like a plague. And citizens, those of us who rely on infrastructure to go to work, to shop, to play and to worship, will need to support those tough decisions and praise not punish leaders who do their jobs.

When I started work on the Ohio River Bridges Project in March 1999, I drove my daughter, Harper, across the John F. Kennedy Bridge in her mother’s womb. A couple of weeks ago, my “little girl” drove me across the new Abraham Lincoln Bridge.

In America, the greatest nation on Earth, surely we can build bridges faster than we can raise children.

– Chad Carlton 

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