Economic and Community Development
Infrastructure Part 3: Durham
Guest Post - John White, Director of Public Policy, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Earlier this year, I was asked to take part in a webinar to discuss our involvement and the passage of a ½ cent sales tax for transit. While awaiting my turn to present on the issue, I listened to others familiar with the topic as they advised on how to best prepare for a ballot issue campaign. One person recommended having no less than $100K to fund campaign efforts, while another referenced needing at least a year to prepare, plan and educate the public on your issue. As I listened to these two individuals talk, I thought to myself this ought to be interesting….
In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly passed enabling legislation allowing 94 counties the opportunity to charge & use a ¼ cent sales tax. The legislation also provided Durham, Orange and Wake County’s, also known as the Triangle, the opportunity to charge & use a ½ cent sales tax, for transit enhancements, with voter approval. Since 2009, the Durham Chamber and surrounding chambers have been at the table discussing this issue with the NC Dept. of Transportation as well as our elected officials at the state and local level. Unlike the other chambers, the Durham Chamber of Commerce is the only Chamber in the Triangle that has a dedicated committee to the topic of Transportation. In the summer of 2011, the Durham Board of County Commissioners decided to put this issue on the November 2011 ballot for voters to decide on. Given the Chambers role and attention to transit issues, the Durham Chamber stepped up and took the lead in organizing a campaign committee. I staffed the Durham Transit Campaign Committee and organized efforts of which led to the passage of the transit referendum. Having received 60.1% support for this ballot measure, to date, Durham is the only county that has successfully passed the ½ cent sales tax for transit within the Triangle region and the second in the State of N.C. (Mecklenburg County, 2007).
At last it was my turn to speak to Durham’s success during the webinar. After providing an abbreviated timeline of events, I informed the audience that the Durham Transit Campaign Committee, led by the Durham Chamber of Commerce, had roughly four months to organize. We did not raise over $50K.
Every community is different and while we can use lessons learned in other areas, it doesn’t mean that information is translatable to every community. Chambers are institutions that by design are forced to know business interest, community interest as well as who the players are within our respective communities. I’m glad to say that the Durham Chamber of Commerce understands how important this is and has been able to benefit from extending ourselves outside of the traditional box of business. Why should this example matter to business community? Since our success with this campaign, our creditability as an organization has risen along with the communities desire to work with the business community. Sure, people still come to us to sponsor most of everything. Nonetheless, we take this as part of the territory, knowing that in the end we’ve made more people aware of what we are capable of doing and the continual impact and reach chambers of commerce have!
Infrastructure Part 1: Louisville
Federal dollars are still flowing to states for infrastructure projects, but there’s not enough money to keep up with needed infrastructure expansion. Knowing the impact that transportation has on attracting new business to communities, chambers are seeking infrastructure project funding through alternate strategies such as new taxes, partnering with neighboring states or working with public and private partnerships.
Infrastructure is critical to economic competitiveness says Business Council of Fairfield County President, Chris Bruhl. As economic development becomes more ingrained in the chamber’s mission, chambers must step in to help solve regional infrastructure problems. Some chambers have tackled this challenge in unusual yet instructive ways.
Louisville, Ky.: Two Bridges and Two States
Louisville is a major transportation hub, with three interstates—I64, I-65 and the terminus of I71—converging downtown near the Ohio River. Logistics, distribution and manufacturing are key economic development sectors for the region, and each depends on safe and reliable bridges and a connecting highway network. But Louisville is currently served by only three Ohio River bridges that are near or over capacity, creating congestion and safety issues.
In 2003, after more than 450 public meetings and a five-year study, the federal government recommended two new bridges and reconstruction of a major interchange known as Spaghetti Junction to address the region’s current and future cross-river transportation needs.
Almost immediately, the project stalled because costs had ballooned to $4.1 billion. Nearly nine years later, a scaled back project that includes all the original major elements is on a fast track to construction. The recent progress is largely the result of strong support, perseverance and creative direction from business, community and political leaders.
Under the 2003 Bridges Project plan, Kentucky was to pay 70 percent of the cost and Indiana was to cover the rest. Relying on traditional highway funding generated from gas taxes, Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet estimated 20 years for project completion, but long before that the project would absorb more than half of the state’s available road transportation funds—a politically unpopular option.
By 2007, with no definitive construction plan, business leaders stepped in, forming the Bridges Coalition, a bi-state advocacy group. Led by Greater Louisville Inc. (the metro chamber of commerce) and One Southern Indiana (Southern Indiana’s chamber of commerce), the coalition united business, labor and bi-partisan government leaders from both sides of the river. Nearly $2 million was raised to support the coalition’s work. Employing communications and legislative strategies, the coalition touted the project’s benefits of reduced congestion, improved safety and job creation, both during construction and after completion.
After three years of coalition work, a milestone was reached with passage of Kentucky legislation that allowed the use of tolls as a potential funding source for the project and the creation of a bi-state Bridges Authority to develop a project financing plan.
In 2011, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer—all strong project supporters—agreed to a revised project design and accelerated construction timetable that reduced the $4.1 billion price tag to $2.6 billion. The governors also agreed to split the cost of the project more evenly. Kentucky would be responsible for the new downtown bridge and approaches including Spaghetti Junction, and Indiana would oversee construction of the East End span and approaches. This modification allowed each state to pursue its preferred financing method for its part of the construction.
Earlier this year, the two states approved the project’s finance plan. Electronic high-speed tolls on the two new bridges and the existing I-65 span will cover about half the cost of the project. (Federal law currently prohibits tolling on existing interstates. Kentucky and Indiana have applied for a waiver to allow tolling on the existing I-65 bridge as part of the project.) The remaining $1.3 billion will come from each state’s traditional highway funds. In June the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan. Construction is slated to begin in 2013.
Carmen Hickerson, V.P. of public affairs and communications at Greater Louisville Inc., says creative funding for major highway projects is a must in today’s economic environment of limited federal funding. Large projects like these are increasingly difficult to fund without the inclusion of user fees. The Ohio River Bridges Project fortunately had two governors and a mayor who were willing to work together to find a solution. Through determination and partnership, Kentucky and Indiana overcame challenges and cleared the path for improved transportation for the region.
Road Reports - Bridging the Region
Road Reports – Part 3
I’ve been burning up the airports and highways over the past month visiting multiple ACCE member chambers across several states. I never fail to take away valuable tidbits and lessons from every visit. The third installment of this series is from Cincinnati.
Bridging the Region
Infrastructure is occupying the minds of corporate leaders in Cincinnati, specifically bridge building. I was in town in early May for a joint meeting of the boards of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and the Northern Kentucky Chamber. That meeting, in a recently opened restaurant and brewery adjacent to the Red’s Stadium, kicked off an education and outreach campaign to rebuild an expanded interstate bridge over the Ohio River connecting Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.
Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson was an apt featured speaker for the joint board meeting. As Mayor of Louisville, he worked closely with Greater Louisville, Inc., One Southern Indiana and other in the business community on a two bridge project over the same river with a similar price tag. His words to the crowd last week: “It can’t and it won’t be built unless everybody’s pulling in the same direction.”
Coordination and cooperation will be crucial as this bi-state region works on a compressed timeframe to put together a financing plan to cover this $2.5 billion project that will fly in both Columbus and Frankfort. The full spectrum of options is on the table from public bonds to tolling. There is a strong likelihood that at least some of the final funding equation includes public-private partnership. Check out their coalition website: www.buildournewbridgenow.com/
Regionalism in action in greater Cincinnati.
Read more at - Bridge Can't Wait.