What can be done about the Brent Spence Bridge?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-04 06:00:07-05

COVINGTON, Ky. -- What to do about the Brent Spence Bridge?

The federal government hasn’t yet allocated the money to rebuild it.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is opposed to tolls to finance it.

Its own Wikipedia page calls it “functionally obsolete,” so what in the world are we going to do about the Brent Spence Bridge?

The answer: Continue driving on it, at least for the time being.

“There is no other option,” said Mark Policinski, CEO of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI).

Policinski had a conversation with the newly elected Kentucky governor last month concerning the bridge and the bottleneck it causes.

“The solution is to build a companion bridge. It’s the cheapest option and the best option,” Policinski said.

As the saying goes, that’s the rub. While other plans have been offered, such as the Eastern bypass proposal, nothing is going to alleviate what has become a nationally known choke point at the bridge – except building another bridge and separating the traffic flowing on Interstate 75 from that on Interstate 71.

“Federal money is available, but we need a finance plan in place,” Policinski said. “We have to deliver this sooner rather than later. It’s of national importance, and people in Washington understand that. It’s famous for its gridlock and importance.”

He also said the bridge, when taken with the I-74/I-75 junction just to the north, is the seventh-busiest trucking point in America. Policinski also called the bridge “the lynchpin” of the I-75 trade corridor.

“That gives you an idea of the impact of the bridge on the nation,” he said.

So if getting traffic through an infamous pain-in-the-(bottle)neck point is so important, why has it taken so long to develop a solution — or at least a viable alternative?

Every year the project is delayed, the price tag increases. Bevin opposes the use of tolls to pay for the new bridge, as do many regular drivers of the corridor. That’s all well and good, but, Policinski said, drivers are already being tolled in lost time and wasted gas.

A study done by OKI said the combination was costing frequent users of the bridge $9 a day.

For perspective, that’s the same as it would cost to use the Skyway in Chicago both ways, every day.

So, the ball is back in the hands of Bevin to develop a plan. But how long will that take?

“By the end of this year he will come up with a plan, and we need to be supportive of him,” Policinski said.

Still, as Policinski points out, the bridge isn’t ready to collapse. It is deemed obsolete in large part due to the narrow lanes and lack of emergency shoulders, which were removed to alleviate traffic congestion in 1986. So basically, it’s been 30 years since anything was done to significantly improve traffic flow over the Brent Spence.

What this means for the region is despite the bridge handling roughly double the daily traffic for which it was built — and that serves as a vital conduit for both the regional workforce and national shipping — it has to continue to stand and serve.

But hopefully not for another 30 years.