Is Indiana-Kentucky bridge preventing progress on Brent Spence?

Posted at 6:55 PM, Jun 24, 2016

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — While lawmakers disagree over how best to proceed when it comes to repairing or replacing the Brent Spence Bridge, Indiana’s governor is prepared to announce a new bridge between the Hoosier and Bluegrass states, with the Commonwealth kicking in millions.

And that’s not sitting well with some in Northern Kentucky.

The current span connects Evansville to Henderson, Kentucky, on U.S. 41. The plan instead is to connect the two via nearby Interstate 69.

Connector bridge between Evansville and Henderson. (Google Maps)

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has already thrown his support behind the project, putting $43 million toward preliminary work. 

The price tag for the new Indiana-Kentucky bridge in Evansville ranges between $850 million and $1.4 billion.

But some in Northern Kentucky think that money would be better spent on the Brent Spence.

Brent Cooper owns information technology firm C-Forward, located in the heart of downtown Covington, just a few blocks from the aging bridge that carries Interstate 71/75 over the Ohio River. He also feels the governor should be directing more funds toward the Tri-State.

“We’re asking for a helping hand, and we see spending like this,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a helping hand. It feels like a slap in the face.”

Cooper is one of a large number of community leaders and business owners who say the longer we wait to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, the more costly the project — and the more dangerous the bridge — will become.

But there are others who think Frankfort’s contributions to the Brent Spence Bridge are just as they should be.

Covington City Commissioner Steve Frank said that all the bridge really needs is steady maintenance, which he said has not been happening.

“We’re getting the same amount of money for the Brent Spence for what needs doing here, which is basic maintenance of the bridge, which has been ignored,” he said.

To Frank, critics instead should be directing their frustration at Kentucky’s spending on other projects, like the Mountain Parkway, which runs through eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky State Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, pointed to legislators from the area uniting behind the project as the reason for the increased funding.

“The delegation in western Kentucky, unlike the delegation here, they’re very, very supportive of alternate financing — which is a fancy way of saying tolls — to support their enterprise,” he said.

“Tolls” quickly became the four-letter word at the center of the controversy surrounding what to do about the 53-year-old Brent Spence Bridge, which D.C.-based newspaper The Hill recently called the nation’s most urgent “infrastructure emergency.”

Generally, much of the Northern Kentucky business community has rallied in support of using tolls to help fund a bridge replacement project, while many legislators say they’re too burdensome on commuters. Most notably, the governor’s office went swiftly from pro-toll to anti-toll with Bevin’s election in November.

“At some point we might have to (implement tolls), but until we’ve studied each and every alternative, we’re not going to do that,” Simpson said.

One such alternative is the proposed Eastern Bypass project, which would divert some of the congested corridor’s traffic through Campbell and Clermont counties and currently has $1.6 million set aside for a study.

Critics of the Eastern Bypass proposal say it would take even longer and cost more money than simply restoring and replacing the Brent Spence, a project estimated to cost about $2.6 billion.

Ultimately, though, Cooper blamed the project's stagnation on what he called Northern Kentucky's “They have a small group of folks saying we don’t even need a bridge, even if we had the money to pay for it,” he said.

“We’re asking for a consistent message going to Frankfort. We need a bridge. We need a solution to our traffic problems.”