CINCINNATI - A Brent Spence Bridge funding proposal by U.S. Senator Rand Paul will not keep state transportation officials from working on a public-private financing plan for the $2.7 billion project.
That’s the prediction of Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the region’s lead transportation planning agency.
“You have to worry about timing,” Policinski said. “How long will it take to pass a budget? Will the amendment be in the budget? And that’s just the Senate. So, while Congress fiddles, this bridge needs to march ahead.”
The Republican Senator told Northern Kentucky business leaders Wednesday that he would introduce a budget amendment that would redirect about $15 billion in federal foreign aid and energy spending to infrastructure. The money couldn’t specifically be earmarked for the Brent Spence, he said, but since the bridge is among the nation’s most important unfinished infrastructure projects, it could secure funding if the amendment were approved.
In a press release late Thursday, Paul said his amendment would reduce foreign aid spending by $15 billion and take $1 billion from the Energy Department's foreign aid budget. Half of that $16 billion offset would be used for deficit reduction, while $8 billion would be spent on bridge repair and replacement across the country.
"While we are trying in vain to nation build across the globe, our nation is crumbling here at home," Paul said in the press release. "I, like many citizens of this country, are angered by our continued practice of borrowing money, only to see it spent on infrastructure projects in foreign countries."
Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Steve Stevens was happy to hear Paul’s proposal, but doubts whether it will prove a realistic funding option for the Brent Spence.
“It’s probably a stretch to see it passed. The other reality is, once it passes, it’s still going to be a competitive process with 49 other states,” Stevens said. “It’s going to require an alternative financing method.”
Northern Kentucky lawmakers have opposed legislation to authorize a public-private partnership that could finance the bridge by imposing tolls. But Stevens notes that Louisville officials announced a $1 toll for an Ohio River bridge project this week and he thinks the Brent Spence could ultimately get built with a similar toll.
OKI has identified the functionally obsolete bridge as the region’s most important transportation project, one that will only cost more as time passes. So, Policinski said the Rand proposal won’t change the dynamics of bridge financing.
“I think the whole [Tri-State congressional] delegation has always considered it a priority,” Policinski said. “The predicament is that government doesn’t have any money right now. The idea that people are thinking about this and working on it, that’s great. We have to develop urgency about this project. Every year we wait we waste $100 million.”