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Every January since 2009 The Sentinel-News has established a blueprint for the coming year to help focus on ideas, concepts and circumstances that deserve – or require – our attention.
Every December since 2010, we have issued a report card to review how well the community has responded to those goals. Sometimes new issues rush in and steal our momentum – such as lost energy in pursuit of a Harley-Davidson plant or the emergence of a new commercial project – but generally we have at the end of the year developed a grade for how we have fared as a community.
In 2013 we have seen some welcome, well-considered progress on important issues, but we also have been left with work to do on some of our big ideas and with plans that simply aren’t good enough for the Shelby County of 2014.
With that we present our annual report card. We marked a few A’s that were well-earned but largely we believe some of our biggest projects to be either incomplete (Exit 32) or ill-conceived (trash/recycling center).
We welcome your comments on these issues, these grades and your own concepts for making Shelby County better.
Develop our malls with care.
We think the clarity brought to the mall project at Simpsonville is exactly what we wanted for the community. First, we are dealing with one large shopping center – the Outlet Shoppes of Louisville – which we think is prudent, and, second, we like what we have seen of the plans for this center from its developer, Horizon Group Properties. We think leaders in Simpsonville showed diligence in taking a trip to visit a similar mall Horizon opened last summer about a half hour north of Atlanta. It’s the model, and its lessons must be studied. Third, we appreciate the judgment of East Kentucky Power Cooperative in choosing a spot for the required electrical substation north of Interstate 64, thus more gently affecting already chafed residents on the south side. There are elements whose success remains to be seen – such as the developing traffic plan for Buck Creek Road and I-64 – and concepts for properties around the mall. But so far the construction project emerging is as we would have hoped.
Ensure our children’s safety.
We were pleased that state and local officials took a hard look at security and processes for protecting our students. Dry runs with authorities appeared to proceed well, and administrators and first responders by all indications are satisfied with the programs in place at Shelby County Public Schools. There is no perfect system, as sad examples nationally have taught us, but our focus and attention to details in these protections are the foundation on which safety is constructed. We appreciate all diligence toward this goal.
New parks leadership.
Replacing Clay Cottongim’s 4-decade legacy as chief of the parks system in Shelby County was perceived to be no simple matter, but the new man in charge, Shawn Pickens, seems to have the appropriate experience, the developing vision and – perhaps most importantly – the passion to continue to develop both his role and our parks. The creation in 2012 of the Shelby County Parks Foundation – with Mr. Cottongim’s continued involvement – is an important piece of that future. It provides the vehicle through which philanthropy can expand and improve our parks, much as Roger and Diane Schot did when they donated the land for Shelby Trails Park. We are pleased the parks system purchased acreage to expand that facility, and we trust that growth concepts for Clear Creek Park and the trail along Clear Creek itself to link to Red Orchard Park will gain momentum in the near future. We remain advocates for the ultimate vision – a connecting trail along I-64 to the wonderful and new Parklands of Floyd’s Fork in Jefferson County – and we challenge Mr. Pickens to continue to make that his vision as well.
Complete repairs to Exit 32.
The construction is not completed, but we are so encouraged to see the improved replacement for the dangerously short eastbound extension ramp onto Interstate 64 from KY 55. That abbreviated acceleration lane – where two people died in one year and many more nearly have – was the catalyst for our pushing for this project, momentum gathered and pushed by our elected leaders to the fore in our road construction projects. The entire widening of I-64 between Simpsonville and Shelbyville and the new interchange won’t be completed until spring, if it remains on schedule, but we have seen progress and are pleased with most of that work. Yes, traffic congestion leaving I-64 for KY 55 was a problem for several weeks until a light was installed earlier than planned. And, yes, afternoon traffic at that interchange can be a slow crawl with that light and only one lane of traffic. But those should be short-term issues. The key is improved safety in our deadliest locations, and one of those appears to be remedied with the new design.
Keep traffic moving.
The widening of Buck Creek Road continues around the site for the outlet mall in Simpsonville, and we won’t know for a few months if the design was adequate. We do know that Transportation Cabinet engineers erred when they allowed a near 90-degree turn on the redesigned Veechdale Road, which meanders through the mall property and connects with its old thoroughfare just west of the Norfolk Southern Railway track. And we do know that the continued expansion of Buck Creek from I-64 north to U.S. 60 was delayed from its planned bid-letting last fall. It now will push well into 2014 and certainly won’t be completed by the projected, late-summer opening for the mall. These projects continue to draw our attention and our questions, and we won’t take our eye off of them in the coming year.
Evaluate our bandwidth.
There have been few improvements to the services and options on which most Shelby Countians must rely for Internet access for their homes and businesses. Certainly we have seen telecommunications companies planting new cable and fiber and upgrading their offerings in Shelbyville and Simpsonville, but we have heard no plans – nor heard any of our leaders’ asking for plans – to broaden access and improve connectivity outside of that U.S. 60 corridor. We don’t like that. We believe that if we are to grow and prosper, broadband access is an important piece of infrastructure. We encourage our leaders to do all they can to seek expansion of services. Time Warner Cable is a new business in town, and franchise agreements are being developed. We wish Shelby County Fiscal Court would seek such an agreement that addresses some of our needs.
Monitor special taxing districts.
We have taken a detailed examination of the taxing districts in Shelby County, which were placed under state Auditor Adam Edelen’s microscope, too, and, as described in an editorial on Dec. 11, found them basically to be good stewards of the public’s investment. But we also have seen issues and opportunities that we would hope our leaders would embrace, adopt and pursue in the coming year. These primarily deal with four items:
We are not going to let these ideas evaporate, because we believe the mandates of taxing districts is to spend the required funds for the greatest public goods. We don’t believe that investing in the wrong concepts, stockpiling money for an unnecessary building wing or sending money to fire departments outside the county best serves Shelby County’s future. Those may have seemed like good ideas five years ago, but five years from today we believe those choices will be regretted.
Open items from 2012.