FAIRFIELD, Ohio - The possibility of tolls to help pay for a new Brent Spence Bridge is is sending chills through Greater Cincinnati's trucking industry.
Issues being raised include more congestion, more fuel being used, more idle time for drivers and what they could add to the cost of goods and services traveling across the span between Cincinnati and Covington.
"A toll on the Brent Spence Bridge could mean that 20 percent of our revenue on local moves is going to pay a toll to cross the Brent Spence Bridge," said Brant Osborne, Executive Vice-President of Fairfield-based Osborne Trucking.
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to create campaign called "Build Our New Bridge Now" to fast-track a replacement. The boards of both groups approved the effort on Monday and began raising $1 million for an education campaign.
Since Washington isn't in a position to contribute much to the $2.4 billion price tag, the combined chambers are exploring every possible funding option. That includes tolls
"I really hate it when I hear people refer to them as tolls," said Julie Janson, Chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. "I personally refer to them as a user fee."
Ohio Governor John Kasich is also on board with the idea of exploring the tolling option.
"There are all kinds of ways we can look at grinding out more infrastructure," he said Tuesday in Franklin. "Sometimes, it's appropriate to toll."
As a driver for Osborne Trucking, Mark Fuller traverses the Brent Spence Bridge several times a day. He doesn't like it.
"It's pretty much a lot of traffic every day," he said Friday. "You just know you're going to wait for a while and it's going to take you a little while to go through it."
In Fuller's mind, tolls will further slow traffic down and make things more congested.
"It's going to create a bigger problem than what they have now," he said. "It's going to cause a lot of backups."
Russ Rice also drives for Osborne Trucking and said the aging span is congested every time he crosses it.
"You just fight it every single day," he said.
Rice agrees with Fuller that tolls will add to the congestion.
"It's hard to tell how far it would back things up," he added.
Osborne said the company's margins aren't at the point where the extra expense of tolls can be absorbed. That leaves him with one option.
"We're going to have to pass that along to our customers, who are going to have to pass that along to their customers and ultimately that means that Joe and Sue Public are going to wind up having to pay more for goods," he said.
No specific toll amount has been mentioned, but Osborne said his firm has checked on fees charged for bridges in other major cities and found they can range between $25 and $65.
However, he said that's not acceptable and Washington should do more to help.
"Let's face it. Our country spends a lot of money every year on a lot of boondoogle ventures," he said. "A bridge that transports millions and millions of dollars worth of cargo and people and cars every day is something that Washington needs to take note of and help out a little bit more."
If tolls become a reality, Osborne has a remedy in mind -- at least for his company.
"Drivers coming from our facility here in Fairfield down to Walton and Florence are probably going to go around Interstate 275 or Interstate 471," he said. "It's just what makes sense for us as a business."
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