A Bridge Too Many?

Louisville's fight to ease traffic has been long, bitter—and very American.

By Christopher Swope

Just east of downtown Louisville, Ky., River Road winds gently for several miles between the flat Ohio River and a rugged, forested bluff. A side street leads to a long driveway that curves up a grassy slope toward a two-story salmon-colored mansion with white shutters, an arched porte-cochère, and a steeply slanted roof of green tiles. This is the home of Christy Brown, a long-time resident who owns a high-end pottery business in Louisville.

The estate, Brown explains, began as the summer retreat of the family of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Brandeis' brother Alfred built the current house in 1910 and, not having a son, named it Ladless Hill. Impressive as it is, its grandeur is a bit understated when compared with its neighbors, an unparalleled collection of 31 mansions known as the Country Estates of River Road. The finely manicured grounds of Ladless Hill are fairly typical of a neighborhood in which the lawns and gardens were designed by such illustrious landscape architects as John Charles Olmsted and his stepbrother Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. In the golden days of the early 20th century, this was where Louisville's titans of industry lived, commuting to work on a train that ran along the base of the bluff.

A brick terrace at Ladless Hill commands a treetop view of the Ohio River Valley, remarkable but for the grain elevator in an industrial port across the river, in Indiana. Twenty years ago, when she was one of the leaders of a local conservation organization called River Fields, Brown opposed the construction of that complex. Now she's afraid of losing another, bigger fight, over a proposed bridge that would cross the Ohio River into Indiana about a mile upstream from her property.

"If I thought the bridge decision was based on smart-growth principles and good regional planning," she says, "I'd feel good about it. What I really object to is that it's a land speculator's dream come true."

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