WALTON, Ky. - Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said Wednesday that the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project is a high priority for his administration and he’s confident a financing plan can be achieved without tolls.
“It absolutely has to happen,” Bevin said after participating in a groundbreaking ceremony for a $100 million expansion at Safran Landing Systems in Walton. “I’ve already spoken with (Ohio Governor John) Kasich about this. We’ve made clear that our departments are going to have to put their heads together on this. They’ve already begun to do so.”
Some Cincinnati business and political leaders have questioned Bevin’s resolve on the $2.6 billion bridge project, long regarded as the region’s most important transportation priority. That’s because Bevin signed legislation in April that bans the use of highway tolls in Northern Kentucky without another vote by the General Assembly. Bevin also authorized a $2 million study to re-evaluate the Brent Spence corridor plan and consider new options, like an Eastern Bypass that could relieve congestion on I-75 with a 62-mile outer loop that crosses the river near New Richmond.
Northern Kentucky business leaders have touted the Cincy Eastern Bypass as a $1.1 billion alternative to building a second bridge next to the Brent Spence to reduce traffic delays.
“It’s not one or the other,” Bevin told WCPO in an interview Wednesday. “ In other words, even if there were to be a bypass, we still have to address the Brent Spence corridor. We are going to need a new bridge.”
“We’ve got a bridge that’s over 50 years old,” he added. “It’s structurally sound but it’s functionally obsolete. Everybody knows that. We move 4 percent of the nation’s goods over that bridge every day. Think about it. Four percent of the GDP of the nation rolls over that bridge. It’s not optional. We’ve got to address it.”
Still, some critics have suggested the Bevin is putting at risk the region’s chances of winning federal grants for the Brent Spence because the new federal transportation bill set aside billions of dollars for critical-infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence. Bevin said he is aware of those factors and working to resolve financing issues as quickly as possible.
“It is a high priority for my transportation cabinet and for me personally,” he said. “We are going to see this be addressed during this term.”
Bevin said Kentucky could raise $1 billion for the Brent Spence project by pledging a small portion of its annual federal highway funding toward GARVEE bonds. The acronym stands for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, a commonly used tool for highway financing.
“We could pay for a full third of that project,” he said. “If we paid for a third and Ohio paid for a third and the federal government came in for a third – and I think it would unreasonable for anybody to pay more than that or less – then we could get this done.”
Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce President Jill Meyer said “the entire region should be encouraged” by Bevin’s remarks.
“He clearly understands the importance of the Brent Spence Bridge corridor to our local economy and the economy of the entire Commonwealth,” Meyer said. “We look forward to continuing to work with him and Governor Kasich to finally accomplish the region’s top infrastructure priority, which has been stalled for far too long.”
One of the region’s leading proponents of putting the Brent Spence project on a faster path to completion said Bevin is “on the right track” with his one-year study of all options for the Brent Spence corridor.
“He understands the importance of the project and he wants to get an answer soon. And everybody should support him in doing that,” said Mark Policinski, CEO of the transportation-planning agency, OKI Regional Council of Governments.