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Proposed Department of Transportation aims to improve Louisville project management

A traffic sign that says "BLIND PEDESTRIAN AHEAD" next to an empty multi-lane road.
Jacob Munoz
Louisville could soon have a Department of Transportation. City officials say it would look to improve transit project efficiency across Jefferson County.

Louisville’s transportation projects could soon be better organized. Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration wants funding to create a new Department of Transportation.

Many efforts to help Louisvillians move around Jefferson County are in progress at any given time. The projects try to improve road maintenance, pedestrian safety and public transit.

City leaders are proposing a new agency that could help streamline those initiatives.

Last month, Mayor Craig Greenberg presented his recommended budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. It includes $500,000 to establish a Louisville Department of Transportation as a division within the Department of Public Works and Assets.

Louisville Metro Council members will make changes to the budget before voting on it next month. Last year, they approved a budget that included $250,000 used to hire a firm to help the city prepare for launching a DOT.

Jennifer Caummisar-Kern, the director of Public Works and Assets, described the DOT to council members during her department’s budget hearing on May 15.

She said the department would have positions funded by the city as well as by grants. Some of the city employees would handle tasks like earning grants and coordinating local utilities. The DOT’s five grant-funded “project sponsors” would oversee initiatives.

Caummisar-Kern said transportation projects can get disorganized if the city staff who handle different stages, like planning and engineering, don’t communicate enough. Project sponsors would help prevent that, she added.

“They would know all of the project history. We wouldn't keep vetting ideas that maybe had been vetted months ago,” Caummisar-Kern said at the hearing.

Four of the five sponsors would oversee major projects, she said, citing Reimagine 9th Street and Broadway All the Way as examples. Those projects also use federal funds and have compliance requirements. The fifth sponsor would handle other initiatives that have different criteria than major projects with more stringent requirements.

Michael Schnuerle is a Louisville resident who works for the Open Mobility Foundation, a nonprofit helping cities with transportation management. He is also a board member of TARC, the city’s transit agency.

He previously served as chief data officer for the city from 2016 to 2020, and said in that role he discussed with colleagues how departments handling transportation needs coordinated.

“There was not a lot of direct, obvious communication between those groups. And we started talking about, like, ‘Well, wouldn't it be nice to get them all under one umbrella?’” Schnuerle said.

Schnuerle, who wrote an op-ed in 2022 supporting a DOT, said he believes it would lead to better project management. He pointed to the East Market Streetscape initiative, which was delayed after a utility-related planning setback.

He said by creating the department and its corresponding leader, residents would better know who to contact about different transit-related topics like bike lanes.

“Having that director-level responsibility for all of that, as opposed to having it diffused, makes it clear for the public for who to go to,” Schnuerle said. “It holds people accountable, puts that responsibility back on a single person, a single department.”

Jackie Cobb is the board president for Friends of Bardstown Road, a volunteer organization that was created ahead of changes to the corridor in Louisville’s Highlands area. Schnuerle is also a part of the board.

Cobb said she likes the current improvements to the road, and thinks other projects could benefit from a DOT.

“Bardstown Road, to me, provides us a glimpse at what a Department of Transportation's benefits could bring to a whole host of projects that don't have that level of focus, and advocacy and organization around it,” Cobb said.

She also described Louisville’s streets as a major piece of public land.

“Having an effective way to manage that enormous public resource is important, because we spend a lot of money on it and it shapes a lot of our life,” Cobb said.

The proposed DOT is part of Mayor Greenberg’s $54.7 million proposed spending for Public Works and Assets, a 5.8% increase in funding compared to last year’s approved budget.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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