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Political expert: Brent Spence Bridge 'symbolizes' Biden's focus on infrastructure

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Posted at 4:30 AM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 19:37:23-04

COVINGTON, Ky. — When President Joe Biden visits the Tri-State Wednesday, there's one topic Northern Kentucky resident Natalie Bennett will be listening for: the Brent Spence Bridge.

"I mean, it's essential," she told WCPO. "There are other bridges, but it's the most convenient."

Bennett lives in Kentucky but works as a Realtor in Ohio, so she crosses the bridge nearly every day.

"It's caused issues with being late," she said. "There was a time when the bridge was, like, shut down, and I couldn't even show, you know, show properties in Ohio."

Kevin Burch is a 45-year veteran of the trucking industry and said the bridge isn't just an inconvenience: It's costing trucking companies money.

"It's busy at all hours of the day," he said. "We're adding cost to it and hours of service."

With the Biden administration in the throes of pushing its massive infrastructure plan through Congress, the troubled bridge is one reason political experts said Biden might have chosen Cincinnati for his town hall Wednesday night.

"(The bridge) was certainly a primary reason, because it symbolizes one of the very top priorities of the Biden administration, which is to invest in American infrastructure to both create jobs and to maintain the basic transportation network in America," said David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

The bridge has been rated as "functionally obsolete" by federal standards since the 1990s; on its busiest days, it carries up to twice as many vehicles as it was designed to carry.

Brent Cooper is president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and said the traffic conditions on the bridge have a direct impact on Covington's local economy.

"We're hearing from small businesses that it is just killing them," he said. "We've got a local brewery here. They can't get patrons to come from Cincinnati... It doesn't matter where you live; we are all impacted by the Brent Spence."

Cooper said he worries that, with each day that goes by without a solution, addressing the problem will just get more expensive.

"We've been talking about this project for over two decades, and it's exceedingly frustrating for us," he said. "We want there to be bipartisanship on this agreement, because we want there to be a long-term solution."

Niven said, without a bipartisan effort, there won't be a solution at all.

"This is the reality of the American political system," he said. "None of those people, as powerful as they are, could fix this problem themselves. If President Biden can, you know, walk arm across that bridge with Senator (Rob) Portman and Senator (Mitch) McConnell, then we're going to get a new bridge."

Two local senators, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said they hope the infrastructure bill making its way through Congress will bring with it a fix for the Brent Spence Bridge.

"There is going to be some type of infrastructure bill, and my hope is that we do finally get something done with the Brent Spence Bridge," Paul said.

Portman said he's confident the bill can pass without having to raise taxes but that finding a funding source has been the primary challenge.

"We don't raise taxes in order to pay for it," he said. "And it's a bipartisan effort. The White House supports it."

Meanwhile, people like Bennett who rely on the Brent Spence corridor to earn a living each day can only hope the project can gain momentum.

"It's been a topic for a really, really, really long time, and nothing's been done," she said. "There's always hope. My main hope is that it is fixed before something major or drastic happens."