Hold on to your hats - 2008 is just about here, and it promises to be a bang-up year for Evansville, Southwestern Indiana and the state. Just make a list of the events that are expected to take place and it is mind-boggling. There will be decisions made by voters and taxpayers, local and state officials as well as businesses - decisions that could be good or bad, that could be costly, that could affect not only the local economy, but also our quality of life. And there will be events that will be celebrated.
As to the latter, 2008 will be the year that ground is to be broken for the southern leg of Interstate 69. This is an event that can be traced all the way back to 1944, when the state first planned a study of an Evansville-to-Indianapolis highway. And that's why, over the years, the most common comment by area residents concerning the long-needed highway has been "they may build it one day, but I won't be around to drive on it."
Sadly, that's true for many, but others of us now fully intend to drive on I-69, at least from Evansville to Oakland City, Ind., the first leg planned for completion.
I-69 construction seems nearly certain in 2008. Less certain is what will be done about Roberts Stadium, but it is likely the city will make that decision in 2008. Pending final recommendations by a consultant that has been studying the issue, we could have recommendations to upgrade the existing arena, build a new one on site, or build elsewhere, possibly in the Downtown area. Once the recommendation is made, the debate in a community divided by this issue will begin. That should come in the first half of the new year.
Some of us, especially on the Southeast Side, will have one eye on the stadium and another on city plans for improving drainage there.
Likewise, public discussion should begin in earnest in 2008 on Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. Superintendent Vincent Bertram's recommendations for sweeping changes in local public education. Among his many recommendations, he wants to build a new high school/middle school, switch some schools from K-5 to K-8, open early learning centers, and institute programs that close the learning gap while elevating academic performance throughout the system.
In 2008 the city will decide where to build - and begin building - two new swimming pools to help compensate for the closing of two old, poorly maintained neighborhood pools. The new pools are scheduled to open in summer 2009.
Also in 2008, the exciting $11.1 million Amazonia rain forest exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden will have a summer opening.
City parks will get another change when Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel names a new parks director to replace Gail Riecken, who is stepping down. It is one of two major city posts that must be filled in 2008, the other being a new director of the Department of Metropolitan Development to succeed Gregg LaMar, who died earlier this year.
This could be the year we learn whether or when the city will attempt to annex a large piece of Knight Township on the far East Side.
In the business/entertainment world, Casino Aztar has gone up for sale. We hope in 2008 we will learn who the new - and let's hope better - owner will be.
At the same time, employees at Mead Johnson Nutritionals may get a better idea in 2008 whether the long-time local company will be sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb and whether it will remain in Evansville.
Hoosiers should learn rather soon into 2008 just how seriously the Indiana Legislature will take a list of proposals from Gov. Mitch Daniels to ease the burden of property taxes. Among his proposals would be a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, a shift of some spending responsibilities from local to state government, limits on spending by local government and required referendums on major local spending projects.
In addition, the Legislature could take up separate proposals from the Shepard/Kernan commission for streamlining local government.
And finally, 2008 will be a major election year.
Indiana voters will be electing a governor and Legislature, and locally we will be selecting county officers, school board members and a congressman. We will be electing a president as well, but, to our disappointment, Indiana will have little to say in the primary process, given the late date of our May election. We hope in the fall we can get an up-close look at the candidates in the main event.
All in all, it should be a monumental year around here. While we are waiting to begin, let us agree that this will be the year that Indiana broke ground on I-69 - the year we turned some dirt.