- How did the project originate?
Jon Henney: This project was implemented by the Louisville Metro Department of Public Works and Assets working in collaboration with two sister agencies: Metro Parks and Planning and Design Services. The project was a result of federal funding for the FHWA’s Scenic Byways Program, which was created to develop management plans for existing state or federal scenic byways. The segment of the River Road Corridor we were working on was already designated as a state scenic byway, and this management plan was a precursor to opening up the option to pursue federal designation.
- Why was the corridor such an integral part of the community?
Jon: The River Road Corridor is an important transportation route. It’s one of two corridors that services the eastern part of Jefferson County to downtown Louisville, but it traverses through some of the area’s most significant cultural, historic, environmental and scenic landscapes.
- Describe the various community stakeholders and their primary concerns.
Jon: We had a very broad group of individuals across the county that helped us realize just how highly regarded the corridor was as a fundamental resource. There were three non-residential nodes within the area representing a number of business interests, and they were very passionate about what they thought should or shouldn’t happen within their particular areas. There were also many concerned citizens who didn’t necessarily have a direct stake in the outcome—they didn’t ride bikes or live on the corridor—but they were passionate about the roadway because of its scenic qualities.
- Did you expect the level of community involvement and concern?
Jon: We had suspicions, but it wasn’t until our first public meeting that we got the full impact of the level of passion. Our initial plan was for the consulting team to do a presentation and talk through the intent and details of the project, but after realizing there were a lot of people with concerns who just needed to vent, we had to give them the opportunity to do so. It was not only the diversity of the interest groups, but also the strength of conviction of each.
Many of them were competing for what they wanted to see happen along that corridor. For example, bicycle traffic had been increasing over the years resulting in conflicts with automobile traffic. We knew going in that the bicycle community would be a very large and interested contingent because Louisville Metro had already committed to provide some type of bike facility along the corridor.
One of the biggest hot buttons was that the county had recently closed a one-lane bridge in order to widen it. It was a single-lane bridge with two lanes on either end of it, which meant that each car had to wait for oncoming traffic to cross the bridge before taking its turn. A river watchdog group called River Fields opposed widening the bridge, and actually filed a suit against the county. Halfway into construction, the project came to a halt. Since this was such an important transportation link, commuters couldn’t get downtown or to their businesses. As you can imagine, there were a lot of irate individuals.
- After the concerns were heard, what was your strategy to address them and meet the needs of state and local governments?
Jon: We assembled an advisory group to help with the planning process and made sure that it had adequate representation from all of the different interest groups. We also set up individual focus groups to address the specific concerns of each, and actually sat down one-on-one with each group so we could understand their unique concerns and issues. In complex community situations like this, we always like to make sure that everybody understands who the consulting team is and what each firm or individual does. It was important for them to know that a large percentage of the consulting team was local and knew the corridor.
- GS&P had four major goals in terms of the social, economic and sustainable benefits. How did you come up with these goals? Had you used them in past projects?
Jon: In part, the goals originated with the FHWA’s requirements for a scenic byway to preserve the intrinsic qualities of the corridor. Once we began exploring the details of the corridor and listened to each of the interest groups, we were able to develop four overarching goals for the project’s vision: Safeguard What People Value, Tell the Stories of the Area, Make Way for Play, and Enjoy the Journey. Once the vision stated where the community wanted the corridor to go, we were able to break down strategies and objectives related to each goal.
- And what were some of those strategies?
John Campbell: We developed 78 implementation strategies (see examples on next page) based on the four main goals, and all are meant to ensure the corridor’s resources are protected and preserved for future generations. Several steps have been taken to help ensure the successful implementation of the plan, including establishing timeframes and priorities, assigning ownership and accountability for each recommendation, and identifying potential funding sources to help move the project forward.
- There were a number of significant historical landmarks involved in this project and stakeholder concerns associated with each. What was the approach to address these concerns?
Jon: Corn Island Archaeology did an extensive literature review and worked with the state Historic Preservation Office to pool together a comprehensive compilation of studies that identified the cultural history of the area. One of the historical areas, Country Estates of River Road, is the largest continuous group of estates in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The estates were originally developed as homes for the old movers and shakers of Louisville, and current owners were worried that changes to River Road would negatively affect the character or scenic qualities of the roadway. A significant amount of time and effort was spent throughout the planning process reassuring property owners and other stakeholders that we heard and understood their fears. As a result, each of the proposed strategies and actions put forward in the plan takes into consideration the impacts to the corridor’s intrinsic qualities and attempts to preserve and protect those qualities.
- Were there any “ah ha!” moments for citizens who had been particularly vocal? Any unforeseen commonalities between conflicting groups?
Jon: If this project did nothing else, it opened people’s eyes to issues they’d never considered before. The more information that was shared by each of the varying special interest groups, the more they understood the importance of the interaction between them. Each group began to appreciate the other points of view and why they were important. All groups learned something that they hadn’t thought about and each gained an appreciation and respect for the other opinions. As a result, they realized they weren’t the only individual or interest group that was passionate about this corridor.
That was the one unifying or common thread. Despite the specific differences of opinion, everybody was there because they cared about the corridor and wanted to make sure it was preserved for future generations. The debate was over how that would be achieved. And in the end, they realized that if the project was going to be a good thing for the community, they would need to rely less on the government and step up to the plate to actually make things happen.
- What part of this project and this process will you take with you for future projects? What aspect of the project makes you most proud?
John: When I moved to Louisville in 1994, I quickly discovered the corridor and its beauty. There is just something about it that pulls you there. I love driving family and friends along the river and showing them the estates and the different focal points of the corridor. From a personal standpoint, I was very excited and proud to participate in this project, and I look forward to having a part in preserving it. From a technical standpoint, I found it interesting to observe the process and the steps that Jon went through to address all the various concerns and attempt to satisfy everyone while focusing on the task at hand.
Jon: Even when projects are similar, they’re each unique. This project has helped us fine tune the tools we use to work with the public, particularly in diverse or controversial situations, to understand their issues and form recommendations. We tried different survey methods and learned how some can be effective while others need to be tweaked before we use them again.
As a resident of Louisville having grown up on this corridor, I recognized its value to the community. I feel privileged to have had an opportunity to produce a plan that will help ensure the value and character of this corridor for generations to come. It’s also gratifying to know that this project has been recognized beyond GS&P and acknowledged by our peers in the landscape architecture world.