Challenging work set to begin
Have you ever been at an event to celebrate the completion of a project and the emcee seems to introduce almost everyone in the room? Then, after introducing those by name, the emcee says, ‘Now, will everyone else in the room stand up because I don’t want to miss anyone who has contributed to this success?’ We usually laugh at such a situation, but it is pretty close to accurate. It takes a whole lot of people during a whole lot of time to study, discuss, formulate plans and raise the money to carry out most projects.
I often am reminded that when I attended the opening of the Mauckport bridge, my late husband, Frank, remarked that his grandfather, Lew O’Bannon, was always sure that a bridge to connect Harrison County to Kentucky would be built ‘next year.’ I do recall that it was Robert O’Bannon, Frank’s father, who helped shepherd the legislation that funded this bridge as well as the one at Cannelton. But it was Frank who finally spoke at the opening of the bridge in 1966.
More than 10 years ago, Frank also had cut the ribbon on a section of the Heartland Industrial Highway in Clinton County. Just this past week, I helped dedicate the most recently completed section of that same project that replaced an unsafe, curvy highway.
I remember how long we drove through the winding knobs along S.R. 11. It was a scenic road that was slow, a bit unsafe and not accommodating to large trucks. A trip to Louisville to see a doctor, hear a concert, go to school or shop was a big deal in terms of time, gas and human energy. This was a beautiful area and a wonderful place to live, but not many opportunities existed for young people to expand their skills and experiences. It took almost 20 years to take that road from merely an authorization to a usable highway.
Public policy and the infrastructure that results do matter. They can change our lives, both in good and not so good ways.
I imagine that most of us are glad to see the end of political campaign ads, debates and speeches. We have voted and selected our new leaders with their plans and ideas. Our elections are over but not the need for our participation. Building a new road or a bridge takes a long time and all kinds of skills. Upon the dedication of a new road or the announcement of the election results, it might appear that all the work is done and that an easy ride lies ahead. But the unforeseen consequences of the new transportation routes need continual study, adjustments and actions. There also will be a new mix of decision makers forming new policies that must respond to unexpected national and international events. We need to stay engaged as the changing ideas and programs are developed. We need to realize that, though the concepts are complicated, they cannot be left to the ‘experts.’ We can’t just vote and walk away.
I was recently on a panel to discuss the conditions that senior citizens experience. A member of the audience questioned seniors’ participation in advocacy on public policy. Another audience member said she had ‘put in her time working on community problems, and it was now time for young people to pick up the load.’ I suspect this same woman probably no longer volunteers in her community and had become more focused on her own security and pleasure. Well, she better sit up and take notice because I believe her age group has unique insights into issues that might come up in the new health insurance plan, Social Security and Medicare. All these programs are in a state of flux, and they will affect us much more profoundly than a smooth ride over a new bridge or highway.
Right now, I doubt that anyone or any group has the perfect formula for programs that address these vital social issues. We do have to start somewhere and, after input from as many sources as possible, develop definite plans that result in programs. Sure, mistakes will be made and unintended consequences will arise, but, unlike concrete and steel, we can change the direction of our efforts. It will take time, effort and an awareness that the most important recipients are those of future generations.
School children always attend the dedications of new infrastructure in our communities, and rightly so. They are the ones who will finally get to use the improvements just as they also will be the ones to adapt earlier plans to current conditions. When Interstate 64 finally connected Harrison County with the outside world, all kinds of new issues arose. Opportunities increased, but controversial decisions also had to be made. That is the exciting challenge that awaits the completion of a highway or an election.
So, take a break from the bickering of the political campaign, then get ready to join people with differing views but a common goal: improving our part of the world.