Kentucky lawmakers soon will determine the fate of the $2.63 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement.
While it’s still too early to tell whether the project is dead or delayed, this much appears certain: The region isn’t getting a new bridge anytime soon.
“Instead of building a bridge sooner, cheaper, we’re going to build it later and more expensive,” said Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. “And that’s the sad fact.”
A Brent Spence Bridge replacement and rehabilitation project has been in the works since 2000, with Policinski’s transportation planning agency and local business leaders pushing for the project for more than a decade.
Transportation officials have deemed the span structurally safe but functionally obsolete. 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. It also would improve approaches in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. In all, the project would encompass a 7.8-mile corridor.
State officials had hoped to start construction next year and complete the project in 2020.
Proponents were counting on the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly to pass so-called public-private partnership, or P3, legislation that would give the region more options to pay for the project.
But the likelihood that tolls would be a major part of that financing plan has drawn strong opposition from Northern Kentucky residents. State Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Covington Democrat, proposed an amendment to the P3 legislation to forbid tolling on any interstate project that connects Kentucky and Ohio. A majority of lawmakers in both the Kentucky House and Senate approved the bill and Simpson’s amendment.
Those opposed to tolls view the amendment as a major victory.
That’s not how Brent Cooper sees it.
“In the current political environment, no tolls means no bridge,” said Cooper, interim president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “This doesn’t mean there won’t be tolls. It just means there won’t be tolls today. Unfortunately, the longer we wait, it increases the likelihood that the tolls would be higher.”
Gov. Steve Beshear must now decide which legislation to sign and which measures to veto. Lawmakers will return to Frankfort April 14 and April 15 to review any vetoes and complete their work.
Insiders can read more about three big questions about the project that remain unresolved in Frankfort and how proponents of the project and opponents of tolls think the region should move forward.