ODOT representative: Toll on Brent Spence Bridge not to exceed $2

CINCINNATI - Financial consultants for the Brent Spence Bridge project have determined a toll to finance the $2.7 billion improvement will not exceed $2 per trip.

That's what Jim Riley, director of innovative delivery for the Ohio Department of Transportation, told WCPO Digital in an interview at the OKI Regional Council of Governments February board meeting.

Riley is leading a "value for money" study that is exploring multiple ways of financing the replacement of the Brent Spence, a functionally obsolete span that carries more than 172,000 vehicles a day, more than twice the volume it was built to handle.

Riley said the study, jointly financed by Ohio and Kentucky, will be completed by the end of March. Some preliminary decisions have been made on bridge tolls.

"We already know that it's going to be below $2," he said.

Previously, state officials had offered a range of $1 to $5 for tolls.

Another ODOT official stressed the study is still at an early stage, so no final toll amounts have been determined.

"We are encouraged by the early modeling, but there's still much study to be done," said Steve Faulkner, ODOT press secretary. "It's too soon to commit to a final dollar figure."

In a presentation to OKI board members, a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official said planners are trying to make the tolls as low as possible so drivers don't leave the Interstate to avoid paying.

"As toll rates increase, diversion rates increase. We don't want traffic leaving the corridor," said Rob Hans, chief district engineer for Kentucky.

Hans said consultants are looking for ways to reduce construction costs through value engineering and design-build partnerships. And it's exploring ways to finance the project with a federal TIFIA loan, which offers low interest rates for transportation improvements, and one-time funding awards through a federal program for Projects of National and Regional Significance, or PNRS.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, OKI's board president, visited Washington this week. He came away optimistic that federal funding can be secured for the bridge.

"Where the money comes from, they're all wrestling with," Portune told fellow board members. "But there does seem to be consensus [among legislative leaders that] finding a way to fund infrastructure is a priority."

ODOT's Riley said the Brent Spence team will definitely file applications for TIFIA and PNRS funding, but it will also seek Federal Highway Administration approval to impose tolls. That's because no federal funding source is likely to provide all the money needed for the project.

When you visit with Washington policy makers, Riley said, "you always come back feeling good, but you never come back with any money."

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