COVINGTON, Ky. — A decades-in-the-making plan to build a new, companion bridge alongside the Brent Spence between Covington and Cincinnati is "fatally flawed," according to a statement written and signed this week by Covington's mayor and all four city commissioners.
"While we all recognize the Brent Spence Bridge needs improvement, regional leaders who advocate for the current expansion plan on the table continue to overlook fatal flaws of that plan," reads the lengthy statement from Mayor Joe Meyer and City Commissioners Ron Washington, Tim Downing, Shannon Smith and Michelle Williams, published on the city's website Wednesday.
The mayor and commissioners go onto outline 13 areas of concern over the multi-billion bridge and highway expansion project that has been under development for most of the past two decades.
That plan would incorporate much of the work recently completed, under construction or planned along Interstate 75 in Cincinnati from the river to north of the Western Hills Viaduct. Along with a second bridge carrying I-75 and Interstate 71 across the Ohio River, the Brent Spence project would also expand the interstates' footprint through Covington and northern Kenton County.
In their statement, the local lawmakers call the plan "overdesigned" -- meaning, too big -- and say it doesn't solve the problem of congestion when it comes to people driving southbound into Northern Kentucky.
Read the mayor and commissioners' full comments here.
"The plan calls for the (eight) southbound lanes crossing the bridges to revert to the current (four) lanes just south of Kyles Lane," they wrote. "The hill is already congested during the evening rush hour... More bridge traffic will add to, not reduce, the congestion."
They also said the plan would quadruple the width of the highway cutting through the city.
Another major concern, they said: tolling. If just the bridge itself is tolled -- instead of a larger area leading up to the river from both directions -- the commissioners fear more Ohioans would benefit from the improved corridor without having to pay a toll because fewer Ohioans work in Northern Kentucky than vice versa.
"Ohioans using the most expensive part of the project (from north of the Western Hills Viaduct to the river) will pay no toll," they wrote, because those drivers wouldn't need to cross the new bridge. "This is hardly fair and equitable. If tolls are going to be part of this project, there should be no free riders."
Other concerns mentioned included:
- traffic diversion through Northern Kentucky to avoid highway tolls
- other ways to finance the roughly $3 billion project
- impact on adjacent Covington neighborhoods and businesses
- impact on traffic demands on the nearby, historic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge
"Times and circumstances have changed in the 20 years since the current plan was initiated," the commissioners wrote. "We ask highway planners to revisit their assumptions based on current circumstances and data and re-plan the project accordingly."
Highway planners and engineers in Ohio and Kentucky have been collaborating on a solution for more than a decade, but in recent years since they offered their final recommendations, questions have remained.
According to Ohio Department of Transportation traffic data, the bridge sees between 150,000 and 160,000 vehicles each day, which is roughly double the number it was designed to carry in the 1960s. That traffic level is down, however, from its peak in the mid-2000s, when local leaders began formulating a plan that eventually became the companion-bridge concept on the table today.
Last month, trucking industry data indicated the bridge and surrounding corridor was the second-worst traffic bottleneck in the nation.
There are also questions of safety on the bridge itself. While structurally sound and in no danger of collapse, it is considered "functionally obsolete" by federal bridge guidelines because it carries too many vehicles and does not offer emergency shoulders.
Especially after losing the Brent Spence for six weeks last year while it was closed for repairs due to a crash -- and with a new administration in the White House -- there has been renewed hope that local, state and federal leaders can come up with a way to finance a solution, which gets more expensive by the month.
"We’re desperate to get people to talk about this again and finally find a way to get it done," said Brent Cooper, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Last month, Cooper and other regional chambers of commerce leaders met virtually with state and federal officials to discuss priorities with President Joe Biden's administration.
"I feel like Charlie Brown and the Brent Spence Bridge these days. Every time we think we're close, Lucy pulls the ball out from under us,” Cooper said. “I don't know how likely it is. I know we won't get it done unless we talk about it, and engage at all levels."