Brent Spence and Western Hills Viaduct funding among topics local leaders advocated for in DC

Posted at 11:03 AM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 13:23:42-04

Anyone who has spent any time in the Cincinnati area knows the Brent Spence Bridge is a huge topic of conversation.

But you know it's become an issue when even the Canadians are talking about it.

Every year, local government and business leaders take a quick trip to Washington, D.C. The idea is to meet with as many congressional representatives as possible from the Tri-State to make sure they understand what is needed back home.

The local delegation recently took the annual trip to Washington to present a list of regional concerns, but they also stopped off in Canada. Top of mind: The Brent Spence Bridge and the Western Hills Viaduct.

The replacement cost of the Brent Spence Bridge is approximately $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, a new Western Hills Viaduct is expected to cost $335 million dollars. Both projects will likely need federal funding to be completed.

"These conversations are critical to ensure that our voices are heard in D.C.," said Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "It's a constant reminder to them of the economic role we play, not just in our region and our respective states, but in the country."

The trip was organized by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, along with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The Tri-State delegation was made up of close to 50 people.

"Everyone from Procter and Gamble, to transportation officials, St. Elizabeth, Duke Energy and so forth," Cooper said.

Pete Metz is the manager of transportation initiatives with the Cincinnati Chamber. He said the region has a number of concerns, including expanding public transit to help connect people to jobs, education and healthcare.

"How do we continue to ensure that our employees can get to work on time and get home and be with their families?" Cooper said.

It was also a question they posed to lawmakers. The delegation met with Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. They also spoke with Congressmen Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup.

"We're encouraging folks on both sides of the aisle to come together to find some additional federal dollars for these key federal projects," such as the Brent Spence Bridge, Cooper said. "I've been going on this trip for well over a decade now. And, that's always one of the top conversation points."

Metz said they had meetings with a number of federal transportation officials including leaders with the Department of Transportation, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the chairman of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee.

"He's not from our region, he's from the west coast," Metz said. "So, he knew right away when we said we want to talk to you about the Brent Spence Bridge, that it was an important meeting to have, and to understand how that project fits into the broader national infrastructure conversation."

The Western Hills Viaduct was also a topic of discussion. Metz said these annual face-to-face meetings are effective in getting their message across in Washington.

"It's, 'Here's what we're doing back in Cincinnati, and here's why it matters out here (in Washington, D.C.),'" he said.

Cooper said the process of getting infrastructure improvements in the region has been frustrating.

"Everyone agrees transportation is something that's needed, and that more investment in transportation is needed," he said. "But, there doesn't seem to be a bipartisan will to get it done."

The Brent Spence Bridge is also a concern for the Canadian government, Cooper said, so the Tri-State delegation paid a visit to the Canadian Embassy as well.

"The Kentucky Senate President was in Canada this past year, and he talked about how they brought up the Brent Spence Bridge in Canada," Cooper said. "So, you know your bridge is in trouble when someone in another country is actually talking about it."

Cooper said other topics the delegation discussed included immigration, tariffs and trade. He said many members of the Tri-State delegation are in support of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, also called USMCA.

"Canada is our main trading partner along with Mexico, " Cooper said. "The trade deal is very critical to our manufacturers and all the different industries throughout greater Cincinnati."

At the same time, he said a number of business leaders are concerned that recently enacted tariffs are causing unpredictability for their companies.

"We're going to start losing jobs in our region if we don't find a quick end to these tariffs," Cooper said.