Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Government Gone Wild: Ohio River Bridges Project

HARBESON: Delusions of a grandiose bridges project

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I was in my PJs reading this paper’s front page article about Jeffersonville’s credit card statements when my husband rudely interrupted the fun.

“Debbie,” he said sternly, “You’re working on a column about Peggy Wilder aren’t you? I see it in your facial contortions.”

“Of course. It’s just so deli-,”

“Stop right there. You said you wouldn’t write another column about it.”

“Yeah, but ...”

“Debbie, you promised.”

I pouted for a while but I knew he was right. It would be personally unacceptable to break my promise. I got dressed and thought about a new topic. I put on my bra, the one I bought from Victoria’s Secret with my husband’s business credit card. Fortunately, that gave me all the support I needed and a new topic pushed up immediately.

I remembered I wanted to respond to a guest column written by Michael Dalby, president of One Southern Indiana. In this column, Dalby derides people who aren’t too enthusiastic about the direction of the Ohio River Bridges Project, our best local example of all that is big government.

See, some people actually have the nerve to think that the project should be scaled down. They believe that doing more than building the east-end bridge right now is unacceptable. Dalby said they are delusional and not living in reality.

As soon as I read that, I immediately sympathized because I’m called delusional all the time. Sure, it may be for completely different reasons, but still I know how they must have felt.

Dalby doesn’t want to scale down to just an east-end bridge because he said it will do nothing for the transportation problems downtown. He is in full support of the project as is, which is nothing short of humongous, involving two brand new bridges and a total revamping of Spaghetti Junction. The cost estimate is staggering — more than $4 billion and counting. For that kind of money, it seems like we should be able to just part the river like Moses did with the Red Sea.

Dalby also took these people to task on tolls. Many people already dislike the idea of tolling on a new bridge because they feel like they are already paying with gas taxes, but they really became upset when they heard the discussion move toward the possibility of also tolling existing bridges. Dalby said if tolling is needed to finance the project, then he thinks it’s a good idea and is confident the bi-state bridges authority will set up a smaller toll for local residents. He then claims that the current estimate of $3 is unacceptably high.

Really? Couldn’t this be a delusional vision on his part, to think the entire project could be done without a $3 toll on local residents? What will he say if $3 is considered to be the only way the souped-up version of the project will get accomplished? Will he accept this as reality?

If it can be considered delusional and lacking in reality for one group to claim that parts of the current project are unacceptable, then the same principle must apply to Dalby and anyone else making claims of unacceptability — on any part of the project.

It’s sad that tolls are even a part of this discussion because it implies that tolls are not ever a good idea. But tolls would make perfect sense as a pricing mechanism in a competitive transportation market.

The reality is that government involvement and monopolization in transportation has led to central planning, which has led to the heavy subsidization of one particular politically favored mode of travel over others, which has led to everything we’ve seen happen with this bridges project over many, many years.

Or maybe that’s just my delusion.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson often finds herself in discussions that involve a bridge project because people are always telling her to go jump off of one.

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