Monday, November 29, 2010

ProgressLex Is Back Blogging

Welcome back to ProgressLex.

To be honest, I have missed you and am looking forward to more spirited conversation and ideas. I may just have to slip out of character and find my way to Buster's on the 8th.

There is a full truckload of things that NEED doing here in Lexington and most of them, I fear, are subjects that most folks will not be comfortable with. As with most places, the paradigm shift in thinking is usually reserved for the other guys and Lexington, as well as ProgressLex, is not immune.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cell Phone Usage In Cars

Americans are about to extend their backlash toward the Obama administration again.

The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has recently said that driving while using a cell phone is so dangerous that technology may soon be installed in our cars that will disable said cell phones, while the car is in motion. Not just the driver’s phone but all the phones in the vehicle. Passengers too, will not be able to talk or text while the car is in motion.

I don’t really see this as a major inconvenience and for one would welcome it. I cannot count the times that I have witnessed drivers, with cell phones to their ears, navigating through parking garages or lots or busy street intersections, concentrating on driving and talking but NOT on cyclists or pedestrians. This is usually during either the morning or evening rush hour, not a great time to be driving with just one hand.

Now, here comes the backlash.

Most of the printed comments that I have read are concerned with “what happens during an emergency?”. This is a legitimate question, but what percentage of today’s normal, driving, cell phone use is during an emergency? Had you been in an accident, would you not be stopped? Had you witnessed an accident would you have stopped to render aid? No, most of our normal cell phone use is calling about useless, unnecessary rambling which could have been done prior to starting the automobile, not to mention the texting of teens who may be passengers and sometimes in the same car.

Many equate the driving and talking on our extremely rural western Interstates with the vastly different, urban expressways and intense downtown traffic of our large cities. I may lean toward the relaxing of the regulations in our western rural areas much like we do our speed limits, but care must be used in such matters.

The majority of the comments have been on the regulation of personal freedoms. People feel that they have the ability to drive and talk, or text, read books, apply makeup and a myriad of other things—all without proving that they are able to do so. The police log books (and cemeteries) are filled with examples of the inabilities of drivers to fully control their vehicles while being distracted by something else.

But let us switch for a moment to the subject of the in-car systems of OnStar and the less well known Sync technology.

OnStar, at its very base is just a cell phone built into an automobile. OnStar has been sold as a safety and emergency response system, but it is just a cell phone. Granted, it is connected to all elements of the vehicle, controlling windows, doors and even engines and does NOT have to be activated by the driver. The system may be turned on by the company at any time (and without the driver’s knowledge) for public safety or national security reasons. (Think of it, your supposedly private conversations could be heard and recorded without your cell phone even being on.)

Should your auto be stolen, the company can locate, disable and recover it but that also means that they know (and can record) EVERYWHERE you have been. How many times have you been to the fast food burger hell or the local drug store (or porno palace?), you know, places that you may not like folks to know that you frequent? And who may have access to this information without your consent?

There are even phone apps built to access certain pertinent data about your auto, although many folks will never need or understand it. How easy is it for a nefarious hacker to appropriate this data for his desires? Can he sell it to someone as information gathered by legal means? Are you willing to go along with that intrusion into your life, or do you want “some” government regulation?

I don’t see these systems being disabled by any technology which could be added to either our autos or our cell phones. Thusly, I feel that whatever is unveiled will be able to; a) be location and/or temporal aware so as to override the disabling for emergencies, b) have some sort of override code which could be triggered by the user and verified by 911 agencies, and c) allow those in extremely rural areas to use cell phones depending upon a controlled set of circumstances.

In any event, I find this to be a lesser intrusion to our personal privacy that the TSA searches.

In a quick update, a recent survey found that 63 % of American voters favored a ban on cell phones while driving. I don't think that it is only 36% of our drivers who are the problem.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking at "Fresh Start" Part 2

Continuing with my comments on Mayor-elect Jim Gray's "Fresh Start" platform and actions that he proposes to take in his new administration, today we will look at his thoughts on neighborhoods and others.
Cities thrive when neighborhoods thrive. A healthy neighborhood has churches, schools, recreational facilities, and shopping within walking or short driving distance. This affords neighbors the opportunity to “meet up” with one another as neighbors and gives them a sense of place and belonging. I grew up in a small town that had all these services, and more, close by. In Lexington we have subdivisions larger than my hometown that are isolated from these basic services. That’s got to change. As mayor I’ll work to create better neighborhoods throughout Lexington.
Is there any neighborhood in Lexington that its residents think could not get better? The eternal question has always been "Who's definition of better are we using?" I'll ask you all, "What would you change about the neighborhood where you live or work?" and "How many of your neighbors would change the same things?"

My guess is that most would not change as many elements or as drastically as you would like. I also believe that you would not go along with many of your neighbors, as most Americans will look out for themselves first. I will tell you that my ideas for "improving" many neighborhoods would not go over well with those who live there. That said, lets see what Mr. Gray thinks.
Here are some other efforts I’ll undertake as mayor to support Fayette County neighborhoods:

Do business in the open. No backroom deals with any special interests that affect neighborhoods. When we discuss issues that affect neighborhoods, people who own homes there will be at the table.
I have to assume that he is talking about established neighborhoods here. Lexington's new subdivisions generally take place where there are no existing homeowners who will remain in the area.

Most of the conflicts arise as the developer reaches the remaining acreage, or full build-out, and those who were told, probably by a well meaning but less than knowledgeable realtor, that the land use for the remaining property will be the same as their unit. Unfortunately, due to demand or market situations, that may not remain true. As I have repeated here often, the retail follows the residential and once the residential reaches a tipping point, the commercial area will begin to fill in. In the older sections of town, that meant neighborhood retail but in today's world, the retail is all concentrated of the fringes and at major intersections. Even where it has been planned for over a decade, the residents do not want neighborhood shopping.

Interspersing higher density residential in these same neighborhoods is considered an even more heinous travesty.
Direct each department – police, code enforcement, building inspection, planning, traffic, etc. – to have a designated liaison for neighborhoods. That person will be responsible for navigating the bureaucracy to get questions answered and action taken quickly. The liaison will log every question or concern, describing it, the date it came in and the action taken. Quarterly the people in those jobs will meet to review current issues, define trends and recommend additional action if appropriate. Their reports will come directly to me as mayor and be shared with council members.
Wow, with personnel and staff time at a premium during the slow economic times, can you imagine what it would be like if we really did recover quickly? After having pared the individual divisions to the barest of essentials, we now want to add liaison duties. This sounds like an additional duty for the 311 call takers or for the neighborhood liaison function which currently exists in the Mayor's office. One call to a single person who can determine which agencies/divisions are affected rather than multiple calls, asking for immediate response, to multiple offices who won't get together to compare notes for several months. This appears to a level of bureaucracy that is NOT needed.

We may need better training for 311 call takers or more folks on the mayor's staff, but this proposal is just wrong.
Activate a city land bank, an idea that’s been around but never become reality. When code enforcement and building inspection identify abandoned or chronically neglected properties that are a blight on a neighborhood, we must use the power of the city to take them over and return them to productive, responsible private ownership.
A city land bank sounds like a good idea and I do approve of it. What is proposed here sounds like it is in direct opposition to the process used by the PDR program.

Under PDR, individual property owners apply to enter the program, receive funds and not allow their property to be developed. Whether it could be developed or not is irreverent. This proposed program appears to not be a voluntary forfeiture of the land and possibly a violation of Kentucky's eminent domain law. This law and the high cost of urban land has prevented the city (and most well meaning development interests) from moving forward on repairing some of our most blighted properties.

Kentucky law does not allow the use of municipal funds to be used to acquire property for non-municipal uses. We cannot take from a private entity to sell to another private entity. I am not even sure that the Municipal Housing Corp. could do it.

In the '50s and '60s, when we saw a significant industrial boom, it was a group of local business types who bought large chunks of available land for resale to corporations wishing to build manufacturing plants here. These same types of investors are today finding spaces for businesses in the electronics or medical research fields but no one has tried this in the residential realm.

The mayor, as always, can have a huge impact on bringing folks to the table but I see an extremely limited pool of philanthropic dollars to draw on.
Plan to create neighborhoods, not just subdivisions. For existing neighborhoods, examine our zoning and planning process to make it easier for them to function as small towns not just bedroom communities.
This action would go hand-in-glove with the first item, making neighborhoods livable. To accomplish the redesign of neighborhoods/subdivisions will take nearly a paradigm shift in residential living patterns. The addition of walkable shopping areas to existing neighborhoods would mot likely involve 1 or 2 of the centrally located blocks (yes, entire blocks) in order to create the mix of retail and civic building necessary to the small town feel(or function). I don't see many of our non-downtown residents agreeing to this.

Short of gasoline prices rising above $10 a gallon and energy prices even more unaffordable, I see most Lexington residents (downtown and non) clinging to the style with which they have become really comfortable.
Recruit philanthropists for projects to grow our parks system using models like Louisivlle’s Olmsted Parks.
This is the way to go, but as I pointed out above, the pool of philanthropic donors is very, very shallow and the needs are growing.
I will work with our university leadership, students, and citizens to ensure neighborhood issues surrounding student housing are heard and addressed, and not just one-sided; everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Simply put, Lexington is dependent upon city residents as well as the students who live and study here.
The student housing situation, both near campus and in some of the outlying subdivisions, is not going to be a simple fix and the parameters are constantly in flux. I think the any solution that we implement today will need to evolve, in order to keep up with the ever moving targets of both the students and the university.
As mayor, these are some of the things I’ll do to energize economic development and create good jobs here:

Elevate economic development to a cabinet-level position within my administration to make planning for economic development front and center in all city initiatives.
Economic development, otherwise known as job creation, will now be a top priority without adding any positions to the government payroll. The planning for these new jobs may end up being the sole reason that the government pursues any new project, from street repavings to a new City Hall building.

Job creation sometimes seems to run contrary to the interests of business. Many industry models are moving toward doing more, but with fewer employees. Automation has been the mantra of manufacturers for the past 40 years, including robotics to build autos, in the large factories, down to larger delivery vehicles to do route sales like the beer trucks (and other vehicles) which clog our downtown streets on a daily basis.

Should we accomplish the goal of dispersing the neighborhood retail throughout our existing suburban areas, we may find that we need more delivery personnel (hopefully driving smaller vehicles) to negotiate the local streets and reach all locations in a timely manner. Local people delivering local products to local outlets in a walkable, shopable neighborhood, finally what Lexington really needs.
Create a one-stop shop for people who want to start, or expand, businesses in Lexington. This ‘entrepreneur’s clearinghouse’ will also keep an index of Lexington entrepreneurs to help connect them with each other and in touch with the community’s needs.
This reads like a description of an App for one of those 4G wireless devices complete with facebook and twitter
Target employers and industries that we want in Lexington, and then work relentlessly to bring them to town.

We will take any new job creation under our new cabinet-level commissioner, but we really just want certain types of employers and just the clean types of industries. If we target the high paying, clean industries our troubles will be over.
Recruit three new corporate headquarters to Lexington.
I'm betting that this cannot be done in the next four years, given the current economic times, although it does not say how large of a corporate headquarters they need to be.
Define clear goals so that we can measure our progress to report to the community and see where and when we need to make changes.

Create an assets inventory of existing businesses and a strategy to leverage and grow them.

Identify business development best practices among benchmark cities like Louisville, Madison, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to confirm how we’re doing.

Create a plan aligned with UK’s Top 20 initiative to ensure that as the University grows, Lexington is able to attract and employ the best and brightest talent.

Actively mine our university graduate lists for folks who have achieved success elsewhere, and target them to come home and launch businesses here.
All of these are just making a chalk mark on the wall in a rainstorm or measuring the snowfall in a blizzard, you don't really know how you did until it is all over.

This is enough for today. Next the plan on aging and using business practices in LFUCG.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking At Mayor-Elect Gray's "Fresh Start"

A few years ago, I looked at Mayor Newberry’s “Vision 2040” and what it really had to say. I will now try to look at our Mayor-elect’s “Fresh Start” document from his campaign and see if some of these thing are really doable. They are in no particular order but in how I see things.

One of Jim Gray’s, major themes was the “big hole” left in downtown and what should be done with downtown as a whole.
The public outcry over the destruction on the CentrePointe block in 2008 made it clear how deeply our community cares about its downtown. I led the fight to get a better project because what was proposed didn’t make economic or cultural sense. We failed, and a block that held some of our richest history and was home to a lively entertainment scene for the next generation is now a grass field. That sends the wrong message to the bright young people we need to ensure Lexington’s future.

While the CentrePointe project is stalled and the building are gone, I still feel the good that all that has happened in downtown has been because of and not in spite of the controversy of CentrePointe.
As mayor, these are some of the steps I’ll take to give Fayette County the urban center it deserves:

Carry out the Downtown Master Plan that was created with broad community input.
The Downtown Master Plan, as with all other Lexington plans, was developed by those who have direct interest in or understanding of, but that still leaves out a majority of our citizens and draws from a limited number of viewpoints. The Plan is painted with a very broad brush and citing the CentrePointe block as a problem is a small detail. Many of the public portion details of the Plan have been implemented, or begun to be implemented as funding has become available. Private property rights are NOT controlled by the recommendations of this Plan.
Create design guidelines that will give developers a framework for projects that respect our past and enrich our future.
This as another good place to move forward and it is a shame that, as Vice Mayor, Mr. Gray did not make more progress. Design guidelines have been recommended since before he was elected to Council and he has chosen not the push for any, until now. As a design professional, these types of guidelines are "right up his alley" and he has a whole staff who could assist along these lines. One of his employees even served as chairman of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission would be the body to send forward such guidelines to the Urban County Council for adoption. Chances lost or delayed maybe?
Make TIF (tax increment financing) a tool for urban stimulation and transformation. I’ll accomplish this by working with and encouraging developers who envision projects, like the Distillery District, that celebrate Lexington’s unique heritage.
Many communities already use TIF as a tool for urban stimulation. Our first was for CentrePointe and the council should have expanded the area to at least the blocks bordering the specifically affected block. As it is, the only place the TIF funds will be generated, and can only be spent, is the CentrePointe "field" and some publicly owned property which, of course, does not pay taxes to be incremented. This may be an oversight of the council but it should have been argued about when the council, not the developers, instigated the TIF. On the other hand, a TIF is also in effect for the Distillery District and until the developer follows through on his commitments, little stimulation can be realized.

It is also my hope that TIF will not be used for redeveloping JUST for unique heritage sites.
Study what works downtown – the Farmer’s Market, the 4th of July Festival, Second Sunday, Thursday Night Live, the Kentucky Theater’s summer classic series, our Roots and Heritage festival – and support private/public partnerships that create more activities to draw people downtown.
This, of course, has been going on for more than a decade. The Farmer’s Market, the 4th of July Festival, and Thursday Night Live have been progressing steadily and tweaked along the way, sometimes under duress, but almost always for the better. The others are all gaining followings and some importance of their own. I find it interesting that the Spotlight Festival, a rousing success according to most folks, is left out as something which "create more activities to draw people downtown".
Incorporate planning for parking in all downtown planning. People expect a place to park when they come downtown.
Now, this is an idea that I can disagree about quite vociferously. Parking should be a private matter. Government should NOT be in the parking business. During the nineteenth century, and before, when you rode your horse or carriage to town for the day, you left it in the care of a private businessman - at a livery stable or corral. This type of service was not supplied by the government, nor should it be today. The idea of incorporating parking in planning should be from the private side alone.

There are places farther on in the "Fresh Start" document where Gray speaks of alternate types of travel and using Lextran. We will get to them later, but if we will be using more alternate transportation then we won't need as much parking.

This leads us to urban planning in general.
We’ve settled for too much development that doesn’t respect our culture and our landscape. I’ve spent 35 years building a nationally recognized design and construction business. I’ve learned that if you’re not going in the right direction the only way to change is by creating a new approach, making a plan to get there, and working hard every day to make it happen. We need leaders who can create a plan and stick to it. We must encourage responsible growth to grow our economy but also ensure we’re doing it the right way-in a way that fits Lexington and protects this unique place for future generations.
Lexington, along with most other cities have developed in the same ways for the past 45-50 years. Many of these methods have been encouraged by the automobile and the prospect of unlimited cheap energy. Some of us can see the end of that on the horizon yet nowhere in this next section is it mentioned. I have seen at least three "new directions" for planning and they all seem to end up looking the same.
To promote a new beginning in Planning, as mayor, I will take these actions:

Create a Commissioner for Preservation, Planning, and Economic Innovation to modernize and consolidate our city’s splintered planning and development agencies. This will eliminate bureaucracy and provide a clear path for growth.
As it currently stands, both Planning and Historic Preservation are under the direction of the Commissioner of Public Works while Economic Development is under the Mayor. I would question why we need to add commissioners, when we have no funds to pay them. Planning seems to "play well" with Economic Development and I see this as one more level of bureaucracy on a path to growth.
Maintain full funding for the Purchase of Development Rights program and its urban equivalent.
Many people see this as a general waste of money, or a subsidy of our wealthiest horse people. It has helped preserve our farm land from urban development but has left in the control of those who will not use it to the best advantage of all when we need it to produce food for Lexington in a post carbon age.
Step up enforcement and develop a system of incentives to assure that abandoned and neglected buildings and land within already developed areas are used to their fullest capacity. Areas like vacant mall properties, the former Springs Inn, and others must be utilized properly to moderate demand for converting farmland to other uses.
In the past four years on the council, I think that we can all see where this has gone. An example of the Lexington Mall is that an unused mall with its sea pf parking lot will become a worship center, still with a sea of parking lot. The building will be re-purposed, yet the basic shape and activity levels will barely change. Maintaining an auto centric land use on the periphery of our neighborhoods will not add to the walkability by a simple addition on two sidewalks across barren parking, when suitable alternate transportation is available.

Many under utilized properties have been identified and yet little has been done to incentivise a majority of them in the past four years.
Support, encourage and promote homegrown projects that make use of our unique place and people, like the Distillery District, Town Branch Trail, and the Bourbon Trail, to provide services and entertainment for our citizens and to attract visitors as well.
While it is nice to see some of our homegrown projects come to fruition, we must try and see that these projects have a wider base upon with to support them. Distillery District still needs much more private money than they do public assistance and that private money is harder to come by. I still find it difficult to spend public money on an entertainment area which will benefit private investors to a higher degree than the public coffers.
Create a set of measurements to tell how well we’re doing in protecting farmland, making sustainable development a reality and creating environments for our citizens to enjoy. Using these measurements we will report every year on our successes, failures and plans for the future.
Now, this one is a really difficult one to understand. Firstly, most measurements over time have to reflect a constant set of community values and admittedly ours seem to change constantly. Also changing is our understanding of sustainability and what we can do to enhance it. I see it as similar to the CATS testing in the schools, a constant changing of how we measure our progress.
Encourage infill and redevelopment while avoiding expanding the urban services boundary. Four years ago I was the first candidate to call for a moratorium on expanding the boundary. We held the line and I will continue working vigorously to protect the rural landscape.
I think that this is just "feel good" hype. If Mr. Gray felt that the CentrePointe project was all wrong due to the economy, then any expansion of the Urban Service Area would be all wrong. Holding the line on expansion mean that we will be building up in the older neighborhoods and particularly downtown. Protecting the rural area comes with a price in the urban area and protecting the existing neighborhoods means putting extra pressure on urban expansion. This will be a very tough job. One that most all previous mayors have claimed to address and still it is a needed priority.

This brings us to something I am not sure any is willing to really solve. It will take just too much work.

I’ve met a lot of people in this community since I began running for public office eight years ago. Almost to a person they have two things in common: they love Lexington and they hate the traffic here. Most feel they spend too much time stuck at lights, dodging construction projects and crawling along our major arteries. Downtown, meanwhile, struggles to create a walkable, shopable environment while autos zoom by on fast-track one-way streets. It’s frustrating and wasteful for individuals. They feel powerless because it’s hard to live and work in Lexington without driving but driving itself can be so hard. It diminishes the quality of life for the entire community, decreases air quality and adds to our already big carbon footprint. We’ve gotten here because traffic engineering is in a silo, often trying to play catch-up when growth patterns have created logjams.
As mayor, these are some of the steps I’d take to do things differently and begin to unsnarl Lexington’s traffic jam:
Identify communities that have successfully addressed systemic congestion, study their approach and bring those lessons to Lexington.
It is as if Lexington had not done this repeatedly over the past 40 years. On the other hand, Lexington has been held up as an example to many other cities and has won numerous awards. Studying someone else's solutions to their problems will work if we have their problems.
Step up creation of bike lines and develop incentives for using alternative transportation, including LexTran, to get more cars off the road.
Great idea.

The Newberry administration built more bike lanes than all other mayors combined so this will be a major feat if it can be done.

LexTran made great strides in demonstrating their convenience of travel during the WEG and has already announced major upgrades to their services and equipment. All of this for getting more cars OFF the road. Should all these efforts succeed, then I ask , why do we need more parking downtown or at any of our other destinations?
Develop a process for public and stakeholder input when road construction projects are in the planning stages – not when pavement’s about to be torn up as happened with the S. Limestone project – to avoid unnecessary disruption and inconvenience.
This is a laudable goal and stakeholder involvement should probably be made mandatory.
Expand regional transportation planning beyond the current Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes only Fayette and Jessamine counties, to include all of our Central Kentucky neighbors.
The MPO should be expanded to include all of our neighbors but we have seen what has happened in the past. The BIG city wants to tell the smaller brethren what is needed without knowing what is wanted. The MPO is a clearing house for state and federal dollars and the smaller cities will see this as a siphoning off of their rightful finding. They already do not get what they deem sufficient for a project and fear that they will see less in the future. The current MPO is housed in Lexington's Planning Division and would need to be separated and enlarged to cover any extra area. Is he advocating to the ADD to take on this function?
Make the timing and coordination of stoplights a top priority for the Traffic Management center to ensure efficient traffic flow throughout Lexington.
Many communities from around the nation have looked to Lexington for guidance on traffic control. In my opinion, maybe we should take a few pages from Louisville's book. Specifically the part on inner city intersections controlled by stop lights. From my experience, many of these intersections work like usual four way stops, allowing a few autos through before switching to the cross street. Cycles are very short and no one street gets a huge volume advantage over a lesser one. No one is left sitting in a queue and everyone feels that they are getting somewhere. There are also many intersections where signals could be removed or replaced with four way stops without altering the traffic flow.
This is a big, complex problem and we’ve got to involve planning, economic development, neighborhoods and businesses in not only improving traffic flow but also attacking the actions our community took – or failed to take – that got us to this point. There is no one solution and there’s certainly no quick solution but unless we start thinking and acting differently congestion will only get worse. I can move us in a new direction.
Mr. Gray is correct that Lexington has taken - or failed to take - some very important actions. Some of the actions taken include; vast areas of subdivisions filled with cul-de-sacs, acres and acres of housing with little connectivity between them and long distances from any local shopping, schools and parks located more appropriately for driving to instead of walking, and wide arterials intersecting with wider still circumferential roads which create basically impassible situations for anyone other than drivers. Attacking these problems will mean altering many of the regular notions that folks have about our city and their neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods that they believe the new administration will be protecting. I have often toyed with the idea of showing how the streets from early last century would look if they had been allowed to be built similarly. I feel that it would be nearly impossible to go from downtown to New Circle Rd. and beyond that, simply a nightmare.

Rebuilding our suburban neighborhoods to include walkable shopping and recreation areas will necessarily mean changing what most people find desirable about where they live. Such wholesale changes will require more than incentives to get Americans to change their lifestyles. Making all of Lexington into a walkable city is more than we are willing to spend.

Coming soon, I'll look at some more of the "Fresh Start" plan.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Things That Maybe We Should Be Doing

There are some things that we should be planning for, especially during this mayoral election cycle, rather that bickering about who has or has not done enough in the past four years. We should be talking about looking to the future in concrete terms, not just rosy sounding platitudes.

This past weekend, the state of Indiana and Progress Rail Services Corp. announced the intention to reopen a long closed industrial plant in Muncie, Ind. Progress Rail Services Corp. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., a U.S. heavy equipment maker that has been moving aggressively into the rail business lately.

Why is this important to Lexington and Central Kentucky? Well, for one, it displays a coming revitalization of American industry. Something that our region desperately needs.

Caterpillar has long been known for their bright yellow construction and mining equipment, but recently they have been looking to get more into the railroad business. To that end, Caterpillar purchased Progress Rail Services in 2006 to repair and rebuild locomotives and freight cars for Class Is, passenger railroads and private owners. Although started in 1983, one reason that we may never have heard of them, is that much of their business is in other countries. They have more than 130 facilities and most are overseas. The Muncie plant will be largest project tackled by Alabama-based Progress Rail.

The situation took a sharp turn back in August when, due to an advantageous position of the autos bail-out, Progress Rail bought Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. (EMD) from General Motors Inc. Funding for the $820 million purchase came from the private equity firms Berkshire Partners LLC and Greenbriar Equity Group LLC. I see no direct connection between Berkshire Partners and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. other than they both see American railroads and their attendant corporations as good business investments.

Although EMD's headquarters, engineering facilities and parts-manufacturing operations are located in LaGrange, Illinois, just west of Chicago, they do all final assembly in London, Ontario CANADA. So much for a “buy American” plan for our American railroads. EMD has also languished a distant second to GE in the American locomotive industry. This new plant will give Progress Rail locally produced locomotives to comply with the “buy American” requirements of publicly-funded passenger rail contracts.

Reports have it that this 740,000 square-foot facility and its 75 acre property will have a test track and allow the company to pursue transit-rail business. The site originally was home to a Westinghouse transformer factory and will require minimal redevelopment as it has rail lines built-in and rail access.

Transit/rail, would that be the streetcar or regional light rail that we see spoken of by the Obama administration and so easily dismissed by the Republican leadership of Congress? Will these 650 new jobs, which should come on line sometime in 2012 or later, be ascribed to the recovery efforts of Democrats or the Republicans? Will these 650 employees and their resultant boost to the local economy be a legacy of the “disastrous auto bail-out”?

When will Lexington seek out these types of developments? When will Central Kentucky realize that we need these types of jobs, not just high-tech or medical jobs? Toyota works well for us but they are not the only transportation manufacturing game in the world. We have one of the foremost rail building companies in the central U.S. and we should be looking toward their view of the future.

According to Association of American Railroads, through 2010’s first 42 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 15.7 million carloads, up 9.8 percent, and 11.4 million containers and trailers, up 15.1 percent year over year. If the oil prices do rise steeply, as others have predicted, then the long haul trucking industry will be hit hardest first. Rail has been proven to be ten times more efficient than trucks per ton/mile traveled and we should be jumping toward this future, not shying away from it.