My remarks before the Franklin Common Council (made up of material posted here previously) made prior to their special meeting on funding the Drexel Interchange. More on the meeting -- and a fairly startling position taken by Northwestern Mutual -- later in the day:
This interchange will happen with or without our subsidy.
But I couldn’t just watch as a city with countless infrastructure and service deficiencies votes to commit half a million dollars of Franklin taxpayer money -- cleverly camouflaged -- to an interchange project that is unneeded by Franklin, a community well-served by two interchanges. [NOTE: Actually THREE, counting College Avenue]
And spending money on a superfluous interchange even as the Federal government launches initiative after initiative and grant after grant designed to bolster communities that pursue Smart Growth principles and alternative transportation options is poor strategy, to say the least.
The smart community looks FORWARD, not BACKWARD; off-ramp development strategies are yesterday’s mistakes that we don’t need to repeat today.
I attempted to bring this topic up at Monday’s Economic Development Commission meeting -- the mayor reminded me recently that the EDC is ostensibly in charge of the Franklin half of the 27th Street Steering Committee -- but I was told we could not discuss $500,000 in “enhanced lighting” funds for 27th street and the possible diversion of those funds to an interchange as per the failed motion of last Tuesday’s meeting.
Also: I had heard that, at the last council meeting, former EDC member and 27th Street Steering Committee chairman Ted Grinjes claimed that the EDC had advocated for the interchange. I asked at the last EDC meeting, and was told that that is not the case.
Do WE need an interchange? When site location consultants evaluate Franklin, we get an “A” by virtue of two interchanges perfectly bracketing the city.
Northwestern Mutual, it should be noted, owns an enormous parcel of land on the Oak Creek side of 27th Street, across from their campus. Their $1.6 million contribution has nothing to do with cutting 95 seconds off of their employees’ commutes. Also, they are quoted in the paper this morning as saying that the funds were pledged way back when they were building the campus, and are not reflective of the current economic or transit situation.
As a practical matter, the Rawson and Ryan interchanges create a natural traffic flow onto 27th Street, which is supposed to be our commercial jewel, the marketing alone of which is evidently worth our spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Frankly, a Drexel interchange breaks that advantageous flow.
Perhaps the deal we make with Oak Creek is this: We will suffer the interchange’s diversion of traffic as well as Northwestern Mutual’s $1.6 million leaving our community -- a community that didn’t get Northwestern Mutual here for free, by the way -- in return for freeing our $500,000 “enhanced lighting” pledge so we can actively promote and incentivise economic development in and around our neighborhoods and commercial areas, creating higher property values and a deep, sustainable local economy.
On the other hand, Franklin can continue to postpone maintenance and needed upgrades. "Fiscal conservative" aldermen can continue to attempt to derail pedestrian facilities such as the one planned for in front of our high school as "too expensive," while tripping over themselves to send $500,000 to Oak Creek -- and get their hands on a Golden Shovel at the groundbreaking.
These same “fiscal conservatives” are fond of reminding us that “the market will determine” whether this or that development will occur. They are not fond of the idea of even small incentives created by the city to help shape development that is more economically and socially valuable to the community in the long term -- rather than simply a good turn of the dollar for a developer in the short term.
Yet, here we are, willing to dump $500,000 into an interchange that the market does not seem to be begging for.
SO, after the meeting, get back in your car; if you want to enjoy a coffee and conversation it will have to be in another community, because Franklin has not been "creative" enough up to this point to inspire a single coffee shop, deli, ice cream store, or other public gathering place within walking distance of its library, city hall and central city park.
And, as soon as this superfluous Interchange goes in, any chance Franklin had at developing the sorts of neighborhood-based, human-scale amenities that spur growth of a deep, sustainable local economy will be dashed like a bug on a windshield. It'll be Starbucks, Perkins, Sbarro, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc. -- the royal court of fast food -- all swarmed up close to interchange, suckling on the sea of cars exiting for a bite before they get right back on and back up to speed.
Because, you see, we're on the road to becoming a drive-thru town, and tonight will seal the deal.