Ohio, Ky. governors: Tolls to help pay for new Brent Spence Bridge

COVINGTON, Ky. - There were clear indications Wednesday that financing the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement will include tolls.

That was the word from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, during a news conference and signing ceremony at Covington's Radisson Hotel.

"Quite honestly, I don't know that you'll be able to put any kind of financing package in that will actually get this done if you don't include tolls as a part of it," Gov. Beshear said. "The idea that Uncle Sam is going to ride in here on a white horse and write us a check, just put that out of your mind because it's not going to happen."

Gov. Kasich said the federal government will help with grants and loans, but the motoring public will have to play a role as well.

"We're going to have to toll," he said. "That's something that maybe people don't want to hear, but I think it's best to tell people the way things are."

Both governors said it's too early to be able to set a firm figure on what the toll might be or how it will be collected. It's possible a sunset provision could be included to let tolls expire once construction costs are paid.

That information could be contained in a pre-financing plan, which could be finished by the end of 2013. If that happens, construction could begin sometime in 2014 and take two or three years.

Rusk Heating and Cooling President Steve Morrison said tolls will be an added expense for his company, located just beneath the bridge on West Third Street in Covington.

Company trucks regularly cross the Ohio River on the Brent Spence Bridge. He said the cost of tolls won't likely be passed along to customers.

"I don't see how you could," he said. "You've got to be competitive on both sides of the river."

Wednesday's event included the governors signing a binding agreement to create a day-to-day management team of engineers and construction managers to cooperatively build the bridge.

"The team will be responsible for evaluating the look and setup of the bridge, preparing a preliminary financing plan that is required by the Federal Highway Administration, procuring professional services when needed, maintaining a project website and managing the public relations," Gov. Beshear said.

While Beshear is a Democrat and Kasich is a Republican, both said politics won't get in the way of making the project happen.

"This is too important for it to be partisan in nature," Gov. Beshear said. "It's too important to our region and to our states and to this whole country to let anything stand in the way of getting this job done."

"This is critical for America," Gov. Kasich said. "We're going to get it done and it's going to serve the people."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood promised the federal government will be there to help.

"Both governors will have full partners in the Department of Transportation in Washington and we will figure out clever and innovative ways to be helpful with the funding," he said. "We know how to do these things."

Three designs for the project are still being reviewed.

The one selected will include a two-deck span to carry all of I-75, plus southbound lanes of I-71 and three southbound lanes of local traffic. It will be built to the west of the current bridge.

The two-deck Brent Spence Bridge opened on Nov. 25, 1963, and while it's considered structurally sound, it's also been labeled functionally obsolete. It carries twice the volume of traffic for which it was designed.

Under the selected alternative design, the Brent Spence Bridge would undergo renovation and remain in service to carry two northbound lanes of I-71 on its upper deck and three lanes of northbound local traffic on its lower deck.

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