Officials update public on status of Brent Spence Bridge replacement project

COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - Following Friday's accident where a man was hit by a car and pushed over the side of the Brent Spence Bridge, transportation officials spoke out about the status of the bridge replacement project that would increase safety for drivers.

"The total project is about 8 miles," explained Stephan Spinosa with Ohio Department of Transportation as he pointed over a map mounted on the wall.

Spinosa has been working on the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project for years, looking forward to the day the shovels hit the ground. "When we use federal funds for a roadway or even state funds we have to evaluate the impacts to the environment," he said.

Some people worry that the environmental red tape could be more of a detriment than a help. "We have an awful federal process to build things in this country and while that process does provide protections it also has a very, very big downside," argued Mark Policinski, Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments CEO."It allows unsafe conditions like the Brent Spence Bridge to exist for decades."

The OKI Regional Council of Governments says the bridge is their number one priority, even more so after Friday's accident. "If it doesn't make us want to fight harder, if it doesn't make us want to win more, then shame on us," he said emphatically.

Policinski says the bridge is the 7th most unsafe interstate bridge in the country. "If you're on this bridge you stand a 750 percent greater chance of having an accident than if you're on the rest of the Kentucky interstate system," Policinski said.

He says the bridge is one of only 15 interstate bridges in the United States that has been deemed functionally obsolete. Policinski says the bridge was built for 80,000 vehicles a day but now carries 160,000. He calls all of the safety concerns combined a "potion for disaster".

It is an uphill battle, however, when it comes to winning federal dollars to pay for the new bridge. "No money has been identified for right of way or construction at this point," Spinosa shared.

With a more than 2 billion dollar price tag, Spinosa says it would be impossible for Ohio to carry the weight of the project. "For Ohio to fund our portion just traditionally it would require almost our entire yearly transportation budget," he explained. "A lot of headway has been made in terms of the financial aspect," Mark Policinski said. "Unfortunately the final divvying out of the dollars takes place in Washington DC."

With the transportation bill held up in congress, Policinski says it is looking like a decision may not be made until next 2013 after the next presidential election. "We need $800 million so we can keep the momentum going on the bridge so that we can start constructing a new bridge in 2014 and finish it, hopefully in 2019," he argued.

It is a goal that Policinski believes in no longer optimistic. "After today it should be realistic," Policinski said.

Spinosa says there are a few remaining environment tasks that need to be completed in the preliminary phase of the project. They are hoping to hold a public hearing sometime after the first of the year and then have the environment document by the middle of next year.

Before construction can begin, right of way acquisition must take place along with final designs which are estimated to take 2 to 3 years to complete. Right of Way acquisition cannot happen before the environmental document is complete, which is set for the middle of 2012. Spinosa says tying surrounding roadways to the bridge will take approximately five to six years to construct with the actual bridge construction taking roughly three years.

In the meantime, drivers are dealing with an overcapacity thoroughfare lacking any breakdown lanes after they were removed in 1986 to make room for more traffic.

Even when the new bridge is complete, local traffic will remain concentrated on the Brent Spence Bridge while interstate traffic will move to the newer bridge. Traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge will; however, drop back down to three lanes with room for a shoulder to increase safety for drivers.

ODOT says there are three alternatives that have been studied and will be shown to the public for feedback before they make a final decision on the plans.

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.