CINCINNATI – As construction continues on Interstate 75 north of the Brent Spence Bridge, officials across Ohio and Kentucky are bracing for renewed talks about how best to jumpstart the bridge's long-debated and costly replacement.
Joining the discussion in the New Year: Kentucky’s governor-elect Matt Bevin, a Tea Party Republican who has said the Brent Spence Bridge is “critical to the nation,” but also signaled he’s intrigued by other major projects for his state.
Whether Bevin’s 4-year term pushes forward or pauses progress on the bridge is the multi-billion dollar question leaders in both states are anxious to answer. Just a few miles north of the bridge, the Mill Creek Expressway project on I-75 is facing funding challenges of its own midway through construction. The projects underscore the complicated and costly reality facing our region's aging infrastructure.
“All great infrastructure projects have a huge political component, and that’s what has to play out now,” said Mark Policinksi, CEO at the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. “The technical aspects of the project are set. The necessity is obvious. We just have wait and see what happens once Bevin is in office.”
DON'T MISS: We're halfway through the 10-year Mill Creek Expressway overhaul along I-75, but officials worry about funding 'scarcity.' Tonight at 6 p.m. on 9 On Your Side hear more from Jason Law on what's left to be done and which areas are most dangerous for drivers.
For nearly two decades -- as projects along I-71 and I-75 have begun and been completed -- leaders in Kentucky and Ohio have deliberated over how best to pay for the aging bridge's replacement.
Along the campaign trail, Bevin made it clear that he was against using tolls or forming a public-private partnership to cover the project’s cost.
“The middle ‘P’ in the public-private partnership, expects a fourth ‘p’ and that’s a profit,” Bevin told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in in August. “Using (such partnerships) on infrastructure that involves interstate commerce where the recourse is to go back in the form of tolls or taxes…that’s where I have a concern.”
Policinksi agrees that no one wants tolls to be a part of the solution. But for now, no one has offered another way forward.
"If anyone can come up with a way of building this bridge without tolls - everyone will want to work with them," he said. “The reality is, the only people who can pull this together at this point are the governors (of Ohio and Kentucky) and their people who work for them. We're anxious to see how the governor-elect wants to move forward.”
Distractions on the Horizon?
Potentially complicating Brent Spence Bridge talks, however, is another pricey plan being floated by a group of Northern Kentucky developers and homebuilders.
Dubbed the Cincy Eastern Bypass, the proposed four-lane expressway would offer a route from Interstate 75 in Franklin running south through Warren and Clermont Counties. A new bridge in New Richmond, Ohio would connect into Northern Kentucky with the bypass traveling through Campbell and Kenton counties, where it would reconnect to I-75 just north of Crittenden.
Backers of that plan place its costs around $1.6 billion – well under the Brent Spence Bridge’s estimated $2.6 billion price tag.
Bevin, who could not be reached for comment, has said he thinks it’s a project worthy of more study.
Policinksi, however, cautioned that the bypass is not a “serious” solution to the Brent Spence Bridge. He puts the bypass’ costs at somewhere north of $5 billion, adding that it would take more than a decade of planning.
“If people want to talk about the bypass, separate from the Brent Spence Bridge, more power to them,” he said. “It’s not an alternative to the bridge, and the big problem remains: Where do we get the money?”
Supporting Building For Bypass
Still, supporters of the proposed bypass say they’re not backing down from their position that the project offers relief for Brent Spence woes.
“The benefits would far outweigh the problems created by a new (Brent Spence) bridge, “ said Mathias Toebben, founder of Toebben Co., a residential and commercial builder in Cresent Springs. He’s among a group of Northern Kentucky business leaders working to build support for the project.
They say the 68-mile bypass would divert at least a quarter of the traffic that travels across the Brent Spence Bridge onto the new bypass and open up thousands of acres of land in Warren and Clermont counties for new development.
“Simple math tells you that it makes more sense to build the bypass instead of a new bridge,“ Toebben said.
The project is picking up supporters in Ohio, too.
In Clermont County, Republican Commissioner David Uible said he agrees with Policinksi that the bypass is no alternative for the Brent Spence.
But the project could be a tool for attracting new businesses and residents who want a better connections north and south through Clermont County. Uible has asked the county’s engineer to study the project and it’s estimated costs more closely.
“I’m saying let’s take a look and see, and at this point I just really want to verify the price,” he said. “If the numbers aren’t too far off, then I think it makes sense to do a more detailed study from there.”