by Eric M. Vest
Louisville A Bad Example: A History of Louisville’s Bridge Mismanagement and Corruption
East End Bridge Construction
The East End political interests have blocked Louisville’s East End Interstate bridge for 50 years. One of the ploys these interests have used is to put the Drumanard Estate on the National Register of Historic Places. This estate is a nondescript estate that was built in 1929. No historical person has ever lived at or even visited this estate. Apparently, the East End political interest put the Drumanard estate on the National Register of Historic Places to make the East End Bridge cost prohibitive. Denis Frankenberger has petitioned to de-list the Drumanard Estate from the historic registry twice, but the State Historic Preservation Office has let the Drumanard property retain its designation. There have been accusations of undue influence of the East End political interests over the State Historic Preservation Office.
Due to the Drumanard Estate’s historic designation the East End construction plan had to include boring 1,940 foot-long tunnels under an undeveloped part of the estate for the bridge approach. These tunnels will be the second longest in Kentucky and the longest that will allow hazardous materials. The cost of constructing these tunnels is $255 million. Other negatives of tunnels for the East End Bridge approach are increased maintenance costs, the high cost of adding lanes or other modifications to the approach, and tunnels are also less safe because they tend to have more accidents than surface highways and clearing accidents and evacuating the injured is much more difficult.
Digging an open trench and then covering it to create a tunnel would save about $82 million compared to using a boring machine and could be finished twice as fast, but that construction method was rejected as being too environmentally disruptive. According to the Indianapolis Star, the woods in the approach area “are not particularly attractive trees and their value is widely disputed – even in Kentucky.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) purchased the Drumanard Estate for $8.3 million in April of 2012. This deal included letting the owners stay rent-free for the following year. The most current appraisal ordered by the State of Kentucky valued the Drumanard Estate for $6.8 million. The Drumanard Estate last sold for $2.9 million in 2000. Assuming $2.9 million was a fair market value in 2000 and using the data from the Federal Housing Finance Association’s Home Price Index for Jefferson Country to calculate an estimated appreciation of 26.85% during this time frame; the value should be $3,678,650. Apparently KYTC significantly overpaid for the Drumanard Estate.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART), a vocal critic of the Ohio River Bridges Project, made 13 open records request inquires to the KYTC in 2012. Most of CART’s open records requests were rejected as the KYTC claims disclosing almost anything about the Drumanard negotiation will compromise ongoing and future purchases by the KYTC. Jack Conway, Kentucky Attorney General, requested KYTC to provide his office with copies of the appraisals KYTC used to negotiate the $8.3 million purchase of the Drumanard Estate. Conway also requested that KYTC provide any documents that helped ensure laws were followed in the negotiating the purchase of the property.
Louisville Bridge Maintenance Problems:
John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge Repaint Timeline
1999: Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) awards a $14 million dollar contract to paint the Kennedy Bridge and work begins.
2001: The painting contractor filed a lawsuit in October claiming that KYTC officials and bridge inspectors solicited bribes regarding repainting work on the Kennedy Bridge. A second lawsuit was filed in November by a KYTC employee who claimed he was demoted after reporting that state inspectors were falsifying records, getting kickbacks from a supplier, and soliciting bribes from contractors. Work on the Kennedy Bridge was suspended. In December a grand jury in Louisville indicted Kevin Lee Earles, a 23 year veteran of the KYTC, on three counts of extortion for allegedly demanding bribes that totaled $18,000.
2002: Kevin L. Earles pleaded guilty to extortion in March. In May the Transportation Cabinet’s Reform and Review Committee, which was created in 2001 to identify problems in the cabinet, submitted a report that found that the cabinet failed to investigate claims of extortion, oversee the work of a bridge inspector, and monitor a minority hiring program. The committee suggested the creation of an Inspector General’s Office to continue to monitor the work of the transportation cabinet. Two bridge contractors who were solicited for bribes attacked this report saying that it was flawed by omissions and errors.
The FBI released a report in August stating the Kennedy Bridge painting project was doomed from the start. In addition to the corruption problems, the study reported that KYTC officials disregarded concerns that the project would wash old lead based paint into the Ohio River. The method of painting was also attacked; the state planned to “overcoat” the existing paint. The study predicted that this method would fail because the existing paint was unstable and would peel off.
Kevin L. Earles was sentenced to six years in prison for soliciting bribes. Sentencing was delayed until September to allow his lawyers more time to prepare an argument against extra prison time sought by the government. Lawyers for the government requested added prison time because Earles threatened to kill his victims. In conversations secretly recorded by the FBI, Earles told a foreman that he would kill the foreman if the foreman turned him in. Also, the Courier-Journal reported that Kevin L. Earles “hammered” two previous contractors for bribes.
2003: In January the KYTC reached a $480,000 settlement for the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Ron Gardner, the KYTC employee who stated that he was demoted because he alerted officials that inspectors were extorting bribes from contractors.
2004: In June the State of Kentucky awarded Atlantic Painting Company of Oak Lawn, Illinois the contract to paint the Kennedy Bridge for $17,777,777. Work began in October with the deadline for project completion of July 31, 2006. The ceremonial painting of a beam at Louisville’s Waterfront Park marked the beginning of the project. The bridge was going to be painted in a scheme consisting of three colors: green, beige, and chestnut brown.
2006: In March the KYTC cancelled the $17.8 million contract with Atlantic Painting Company because the state claimed that Atlantic Painting was making insufficient progress towards completing the bridge repainting project. In October, the state awarded a $14.7 million contract to Intech Contracting of Lexington to complete painting the Kennedy Bridge by the summer of 2007. The original plans for a three color paint scheme were replaced with a simpler all beige colored scheme. The very southernmost portion of the bridge that was completed in three colors (green, beige, and chestnut brown) was painted over.
2007: On December 5, 2007, the painting project was completed after over seven years of starts and stops, three painting contractors, two law suits, a felony conviction, an FBI corruption investigation, and at a cost of $59 million dollars which was over three times the original budget.