If you were holding out hope that a new Ohio River bridge could be built without tolls, it could be time to stop hoping.
State transportation officials in Ohio and Kentucky on Tuesday filed an initial financial plan for the $2.63B Brent Spence Bridge project, meeting a Dec. 31 deadline set by Kentucky lawmakers.
Brent Spence Bridge
CINCINNATI – If you were holding out hope that a new Ohio River bridge could be built without tolls, it could be time to stop hoping.
A new financing plan for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement says tolls will be the primary source of funding for the $2.63 billion project.
“I don’t believe there’s any way this bridge gets built without tolls,” said Steve Faulkner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation or ODOT. “The notion that the federal government is going to ride in on a white horse with a big bag of money to save the day is not really realistic.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet was required by state lawmakers to complete an Initial Financial Plan for the bridge project and submit it to the Federal Highway Administration by Dec. 31. The cabinet and ODOT released the plan Tuesday.
Federal officials don’t normally require such a plan until a project is ready for construction to start, noted Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the cabinet’s office of public affairs.
As a result, the new plan is bound to change many times between now and the time the new bridge is built, he said.
Since tolling is now acknowledged as an essential part of the project, for example, the states will have to complete a new environmental analysis, Wolfe said.
“Where there is tolling, there is traffic diversion,” he said. “And that has implications for air quality and potential affects for minority and low-income populations.”
The plan also notes that both states are considering the use of a “design-build-finance-operate-maintain” delivery model.
“You have to have a private equity partner who can bring a lot of cash up front” to use such a model, Wolfe said. “That’s one of the attractions of such an arrangement.”
Under such a plan, the governments would use money collected from tolls to repay the private partner.
Kentucky lawmakers would have to pass special legislation for that to happen, just as they would have to approve legislation to have tolls.
The 2014 Kentucky Legislative Session starts Jan. 7. During the session lawmakers are expected to consider those measures and the cabinet’s funding requests for the bridge project.
A Brent Spence Bridge replacement and rehabilitation project has been in the works since 2000.
The bridge was originally designed to carry 80,000 vehicles per day and now carries about twice that number. By 2035, the span is expected to have more than 230,000 vehicles cross it daily.
Under the current plan, a new bridge would be built parallel to the existing Brent Spence Bridge, which would also get a makeover.
The project also would improve the bridge approaches in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. In all, the project encompasses a 7.8-mile corridor. State transportation officials are aiming for a completion date of 2020.
Once financing and interest are added to the construction costs, the total project is estimated to cost $3.57 billion, according to the new study.
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may .