COVINGTON, Ky. — Governors Mike DeWine and Andy Beshear signed a memorandum of understanding seeking to secure federal funding from the infrastructure bill that will go toward fixing major traffic issues at the Brent Spence Bridge.
The solution proposed Monday by Beshear and DeWine will have three components: A new companion bridge that will divert traffic from the Brent Spence Bridge, improvements to the existing bridge and reworking I-71/75 on both sides of the Ohio River. The companion bridge will be toll-free, both governors said.
The project will cost an estimated $2.8 billion, according to DeWine. The governors anticipate that $2 billion of that will come from the federal infrastructure bill passed in Nov. 2021. Both governors plan to raise the remaining cost over time through their states.
"Ohio and Kentucky are aligned very, very closely on this," said DeWine. "This is a joint project and that will make a difference."
Currently, applications for funding from the infrastructure bill haven't opened so DeWine and Beshear have not yet formally requested the funds. Both said they were confident they would be able to get the money they need from the bill when the time to apply comes.
If funding can be approved by the end of 2022, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, Jack Marchbanks, said he expects a design procurement package could be ready by the fall of 2023. Marchbanks said a conservative estimation of how long the project would take to complete is five years.
"We all want to have another announcement where we learn we get enough money to get this done, but what everybody in this community wants us to do is stick a shovel in the ground and start doing the work," said Beshear.
He later said he wants the project to be able to break ground in 2023, but acknowledged that was aggressive.
"Your community has waited far, far, far too long for this and so like with every other cabinet secretary and group ... we will take their timetable, we will divide it by two and then we will push harder from there," he said.
Beshear and DeWine both emphasized the need to solve traffic issues around the Brent Spence Bridge, which affects freight drivers and the transportation of goods from Michigan to Florida.
"The I-71/75 corridor is among the most important stretches of freight traffic ever east of the Mississippi River," said Beshear.
The bridge has been a point of contention and frustration for lawmakers and local commuters alike for years.
DeWine himself declared that solving the Brent Spence problem would be a high priority after he was inaugurated as governor in 2019 while standing with then-Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.
Talks of replacing the bridge stalled with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, however.
Later in 2020, those talks reignited once more after the bridge itself, well, ignited.
A fiery crash involving two semi tractor trailers set the bridge ablaze in a chemical fire that burned for hours and closed the Brent Spence Bridge for months.
Then came 2021, the bridge's ranking as the nation's second-worst traffic bottleneck, and the promise of an infrastructure bill. In January, President Joe Biden announced the creation of the Bridge Formula Program through the bill, which allocates $39 billion to states to fix bridges nationwide.
From that, Ohio is expected to receive $483.3 million over five years, with over $100 million of that set to be available this year. Kentucky would also receive $438 million total, with roughly $87.7 million available this year. That fund is different from grant funding available through the infrastructure bill, which means more dollars could be available to Ohio and Kentucky through grant applications.
“The big take away is the money is starting to come,” said Mark Policinksi, CEO of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, in January. “The bill was passed in November and the money is starting to come. A lot more money is coming down the road and it’s going to be very, very competitive.”
The possible reality of funding to solve the Brent Spence Bridge's traffic debacles has been just out of reach for drivers in the Tri-State for years and time has become a crucial component. Opened 59 years ago, the bridge has long been considered functionally obsolete, carrying about 180,000 vehicles a day, which is more traffic than it was built to handle.
The bridge has officially needed a replacement since at least 1998, when the Federal Highway Administration determined it was no longer accommodating traffic needs.
Watch the full press conference below: