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Will new infrastructure deal pay for Brent Spence replacement?

WCPO tanya portman.jpeg
Posted at 11:31 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 11:07:17-04

By now, you know that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman played a crucial role in getting a bipartisan infrastructure deal through the Senate. His home state is partial host to one of the country’s biggest infrastructure headaches: The Brent Spence Bridge, which has connected Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky since 1963.

But will the infrastructure bill provide money to replace it? It’s hard to know.

“There are 56,000 bridges around the country who need to be replaced, according to the American Society of Engineers,” Portman said when we asked him.

But, he added, the Brent Spence ranks high on that list in terms of importance.

“One reason it's high is because it's a major commercial thoroughfare,” he said. “So think of all the economic loss every year with these trucks … They're caught in traffic here. So it's about people, it's about commerce, it's about the economy and, therefore, it's high on the list.”

The bridge has needed a replacement since at least 1998, when the Federal Highway Administration determined it was no longer accommodating traffic needs.

Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both pointed to it as an example of the type of infrastructure problem they’d like to solve — then left office without further movement.

Portman said the new nationwide infrastructure package includes his own bill, the Bridge Investment Act, that allocates $1.5 billion in new money explicitly intended for bridges like the Brent Spence.

“We wrote it in a way that, you know, fits this bridge and other bridges like it, because we do have a problem with some of these bridges of regional significance that are functionally obsolete, meaning they’re carrying a lot more traffic than they were ever expected to,” he said. “And we’re carrying twice as much traffic as we were ever designed to carry on Brent Spence.”

He can’t make specific predictions about how the money will be used, he said, especially when the bill needs House approval to reach President Joe Biden’s desk. He’s hopeful that, if it passes, the funds will make their way back to Cincinnati.

“It's important in our community; that's important to me,” he said.

And if the money for a new bridge does come in, should it be renamed the Portman Bridge?

Absolutely not, the senator said. He doesn’t want his name on any public space.