House vote would strip tolling option for new Brent Spence bridge project

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The plan to build a new interstate highway bridge might dead after a bill passed the Kentucky House of Representatives.

On Monday state legislators voted 82-7 to pass House Bill 407. Local state representative Arnold Simpson inserted an amendment that would strip toll funding for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement.  If the Kentucky Senate approves the bill passed in the House the major funding mechanism for $2.6 billion construction project would be gone.

Also on Tuesday, a the House budget committee voted to remove $36 million dollars in state funds from the project. That vote still has to go before the full House.

The restriction on tolls for public-private construction partnerships only applies to the Brent Spence Bridge project in the Commonwealth in the bill.

In January, Simpson, a Democrat from Covington, said he wanted to wait a couple of years to see how a bridge project funded in part with tolls in Louisville played out before doing the same thing in Northern Kentucky.

“The Brent Spence Bridge, where it’s functionally obsolete, it’s still structurally sound,” Simpson said. “It has a useful life of 10 to 20 years.”

Other local state legislators joined Simpson in his reticence to fund the project through tolls.

 “Any piece of legislation that’s advancing the concept of tolling, I don’t see it moving at any great pace,” said Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate.

But others warned that a delay in approval for funding of the $2.63 billion bridge now could mean decades of delay.

If the region waits for the federal government to bear the cost of the bridge project, it is bound to have a long wait, said Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments in January. OKI, as it’s known, is the region’s transportation planning agency.

If the two states can’t agree on some innovative financing methods, the project could go to the end of the line and not get built until 2035, he said.

“We have a very clear choice,” Policinski said. “Do people want to recognize reality and the benefits of a new bridge? Or do they want to sit and wait and waste the taxpayers money and time and gas?”

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