Federal highway bill could boost Brent Spence Bridge

CINCINNATI - Congress is poised to approve a $281 billion transportation bill that promises big money for major and costly projects like the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge.

Expected to land final approval on Friday, the five-year bill would create the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program from which $4.5 billion would be available for major highway and bridge projects across the country through a competitive grant process.

To be considered for the program, projects must cost at least $100 million with requests for federal funding set at a minimum of 25 percent of the project's costs. While such a program wouldn’t cover the entire $2.6 billion replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, the project would likely be considered a top contender, said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

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“We wrote the program into the bill especially with the Brent Spence Bridge in mind,” said Brown, who pushed for the program as one of 13 House and Senate members who crafted the bipartisan legislation. “It’s considered one of the most regionally significant highway projects because 4 percent of the nation’s (gross domestic product) crosses that bridge every day.”

The bill marks the first commitment from the federal government for long-term transportation funding since 2005.

"This is something that communities across the country have been clamoring for for years," said Matt Davis, director of the Build Our Bridge Now Coalition, a group of community and business leaders pushing for the bridge's replacement.

Still, much work lies ahead as leaders in Ohio and Kentucky deliberate over how best to cover their local match of the aging bridge's replacement.

"This is a strong signal to Ohio and Kentucky that the opportunity is now to come together to develop a local plan to fill the gap and make the best pitch we can for these dollars," Davis said.

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin has said the Brent Spence Bridge is “critical to the nation,” but cautioned that he opposes the use of tolls to pay for the state’s share of the projects costs.

Outside of tolls, no other finance plans have emerged that would allow the project to move forward, officials with the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments have said.

“I have faith they will figure this out,” Brown said. “Ultimately, it will take a significant amount of federal dollars to rebuild this bridge, and we need to do that sooner rather than later.”

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