More bridges to nowhere

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I've commented on the pointlessness of the 41st Street and 61st Street pedestrian-only bridges, which are part of the sales tax package Tulsa County residents will be voting on October 9, but which are not part of the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan. The 41st Street pedestrian-only bridge would in fact obstruct something that is in the ARMCP: A combination vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Red Fork to Brookside.

The two pedestrian-only bridges will connect on the west side of the river to an industrial area and a railroad track, respectively. Cyclists and joggers may appreciate having more ways to make a circuit around the river, but few Tulsans will make use of these bridges, which are priced at $15 million a piece.

Up in Amsterdam, N. Y., Robert N. Going wonders about the value of a pedestrian bridge proposed to span the Mohawk River. Like our 61st Street bridge, this one would dead-end at a railroad track and would fall well short of connecting the two sides of the town.

In Amsterdam's case, the bridge is being financed by a statewide bond issue that passed a couple of years ago. The local assemblyman (equivalent to Oklahoma's state representative) included money for the bridge in the bond. Just as Tulsa County officials didn't consult with City of Tulsa officials about the City's priorities for the river, the assemblyman didn't speak to Amsterdam city officials about whether there were better ways to use the $17 million that he had finagled for the pedestrian bridge.

Robert presents an alternative and less expensive idea that would improve the city's waterfront and usefully connect one place to another. His idea won't get anywhere, because it doesn't cost enough and involve enough money for construction contracts, so there won't be anyone with a financial motivation to lobby for its approval.

It took me a while to figure this out, but to the people who make the decisions, a plan for civic improvement isn't a real plan unless it involves higher taxes, the issuance of revenue bonds, and lots and lots of concrete and steel. There has to be a sufficiently concentrated benefit for some group of businesses and institutions to make it worth their while to lobby and campaign for something.

I've been outspoken in opposition to several of these big tax projects, but each time I've offered an alternative approach to civic improvement. When The Channels concept surfaced last fall, I used my UTW column to set out what I think Tulsans really want when they say they want river development and the best way to make that happen.

My approach to civic improvements usually involves a series of incremental improvements, none of them wildly expensive. Roberta Brandes Gratz's concept of "urban husbandry," as opposed to "project planning," guides me in this regard. Some of my ideas involve redeploying existing resources or eliminating regulatory barriers (e.g., allowing entrepreneurs to operate private bus services, aka jitneys).

I've always marveled at how quick the Vote Yes folks are to scoff at my alternatives to their plans for civic improvement. They don't want to know my alternative plan for making Tulsa a better place. They want to know my alternative plan for raising taxes and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new construction. The idea that we don't need to raise and spend all that money is unacceptable. I can't find it right now, but there was even a letter to the editor mocking the fact that I always offer a less expensive way to do something.

One more thought connected to this: Vision 2025 included $15 million for the Route 66 corridor. That kind of money could have been used to amazing effect, supplementing the positive impact of the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The money could have funded facade improvements, rehabilitation of neon, and other efforts to preserve and restore commercial buildings along Route 66 in Tulsa County. It's the roadside businesses, and the memories they stir of pre-Interstate Highway travel, that draw people to Route 66. (The federal program has $10,000,000 to spend over 2,000 miles of road. Tulsa County has $15,000,000 for 26 miles of road.)

Instead, much of the money is being used to build a new museum, which means a big general construction contract and lots of money flowing down to subcontractors. No one thought of using the money for restoration and preservation of existing buildings because no one could figure out how to make a buck off of it. (Which is silly, because there is money in restoration and preservation. The notion just hasn't caught on here yet.)

RELATED: An excellent post by Jeff Shaw which fed into my thoughts on this issue as well. He asks some questions of the economic impact numbers the Chamber Pots are touting for the river tax plan. I have a copy of that spreadsheet, which I intend to post soon, and at first glance it looks like their economic impact estimate is predicated on how much tax money is spent on construction. No account is made of the impact of withdrawing the money for construction from the uses to which it would have been put otherwise. The model behind it seems to predict that if you taxed every penny and devoted it to construction of new public facilities, the city would become a wealthy paradise.

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W. Author Profile Page said:

While I admire your praise of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation program, your criticism of the museum is ill-advised. The reason Vision 2025 went with a museum was because a thorough survey of the region showed that such a museum was the best way to bring in Route 66ers AND tourists AND locals. I read those Vision 2025 documents, and they made a compelling case. Old buildings and neon just aren't enough by themselves. It would have been foolish to ignore those survey results.

(Incidentally, although the Corridor Preservation Program has been *authorized* for $10 million over 10 years, the actual money allocated has been only about one-third of that.)

And while preserving historic properties gains the support of hard-core Route 66ers, there aren't enough of them. For the Mother Road to be viable for the long-term, it needs locals and nonroadie tourists. Vision 2025 was correct in trying to boost Route 66 in Tulsa County from a cottage-industry level into something with wider appeal.

G Webster Wormleigh said:

I have long been an advocate of an economical way to transport people around Tulsa. At this point, it would be cheaper to pay for the taxi service required to move people around than it is to support the current bus line travesty. And, as to a river pedestrian bridge, here is a link to one that will go from somewhere to somewhere. It's in Omaha, and it will link Iowa and Nebraska across the Missouri River.

Bob said:

An EXCELLENT article by Michael.

I'll just add, that on Oct. 9, if the Tulsa COUNTY Election Board tells us that the citizens of Tulsa County have approved another $.004 sales tax, you will NEVER see the end of this tax.

The crony construction companies, architects & engineers, favored bond underwriters, favored bond attorneys, and associated minions of favored sub-contractors will NEVER let the tax EVER expire.

They'll be moving sand around in the Arkansas River for the next 100 years.

XonOFF said:

It may have been equally foolish to ignore voters, who thought they were going to get a bridge restoration project, with some significant building/sign restorations along Route 66. None of that is being done.

Don't be surprised if the next time someone asks for 'Route 66' funding, it doesn't happen.

sbtulsa said:

the end game of economic development is to get families to move to Tulsa. to get that, we have to have good paying jobs. that' where you get the multiplier effect. salary dollars respent in the community.

call centers and retail/hospitality don't have high enough incomes to drive the economy to greater heights. neither do the events in the new arena or the river developement plan miller is pushing.

the first prioirty in eco development is to address the factors families use in the move decision. those are streets, schools, and safety. until those are fixed all else is folly, stomach acid, and gas

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 2, 2007 12:34 AM.

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