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Northern Ky. residents to see plans for new bridge

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Plans for a $2.3 billion new bridge over the Ohio River between northern Kentucky and southern Ohio are expected to be made public in the coming year.

Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, says 2011 is "absolutely critical" for the new Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Covington, Ky., and Cincinnati.

The plans are expected to disclose how the interstates leading to the bridge on both sides of the Ohio River will be reconfigured, where new entrance and exit ramps will be built, and which homes and businesses might be displaced by one of the biggest public works projects in the region's history. It will be about 10 years before the new span is open to travel.

"Next year is an absolutely critical year for Brent Spence," Policinski said. "But these things don't get built overnight."

The project has been under discussion for nearly seven years and is still four to five years from the start of construction and at least a decade away from being ready. The timeline that puts the bridge opening in 2022 assumes no major financing or design delays.

"The easiest thing would be to write a $2.5 billion check and be done in five years," said project manager Fred Craig of Parsons Brinckerhoff. "But that's not possible."

Key to the bridge staying on track is a long-delayed federal transportation bill that could include hundreds of millions of dollars for the Brent Spence project. Members of the Ohio and Kentucky congressional delegations initially hoped to secure about a third of the projected cost from Washington this year, but the transit bill was pushed back to 2011.

Policinski and others involved in the bridge project are worried that if the transportation bill doesn't pass early in 2011, it may become entangled in the politics of the 2012 presidential election and congressional campaigns.

"If we don't get this within the first six months of the new Congress, every month after that, it becomes a little less likely that we'll see anything happen until after the next presidential election," Policinski said.

Decisions on the bridge design itself and the scope of a project that will stretch for several miles on both sides of the Ohio River also are to be resolved in 2011 after a series of public hearings. Under the proposal, traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge would be split between the current route and a new double-decked bridge to the west. The bridge, a key link in the Interstate 75 corridor from Michigan to Florida, now carries about 160,000 cars and trucks daily, twice the capacity it was built to handle, and the volume is expected to grow to 230,000 vehicles by 2035.

The project's budget will cover not only the new bridge itself, but also reconfiguration of highways and ramps approaching it in about an eight-mile corridor. While the Kentucky and Ohio congressional delegations have traditionally been supportive of the bridge, the position of U.S. Sen.-elect Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite from Kentucky, remains murky. Paul was noncommittal about the bridge during the 2010 campaign, saying he would work for Kentucky's needs "within the context of a balanced budget."

That remains his position, a spokeswoman said this week. Federal officials will have final say on the route, timing and cost of the project and are expected to eventually provide upward of two-thirds of the funding, with the rest likely coming from Ohio and Kentucky state governments. Local leaders would prefer that future federal dollars for the Brent Spence project come primarily through normal transportation funding.

"We'll take it where we can get it," Policinski said. "We're not going to say no."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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