Brent Spence gets federal stamp of approval

Covington reacts to Brent Spence redesign

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Brent Spence Bridge project took a leap forward following federal approval of current plans.

The Federal Highway Administration announced a finding of 'no significant impact' in a report signed Thursday.

"Definitely relieved," B.J. Gallenstein said of his reaction to the news. "We can kind of look to the future a little better."

Gallenstein is a business owner whose family spoke out to fight for 5th Street access.

"I think a lot of people really stepped up and made their voices heard," he said. "I think if everybody would have kept quiet I think they would have assumed somebody else is going to do it. I think everybody came down here came together great."

Drivers headed northbound on I-75 will have direct access to Fifth Street without having to weave through neighborhoods from 12th Street. Initially that was not in the plan because of environmental impacts to Goebel Park, but state and local support helped push it through.

"People's voices do count," City Manager Larry Klein said. "At our public hearing, we had over 300 people show up to that and everyone was really taken into account."

In Covington, business leaders argue access is everything.

"That's what makes the City of Covington work, accessibility right off the expressaway ramp," argued Michael Smith.

Smith owns Smith Mufflers and Brakes, Inc. off 5th Street. He says the initial news of limited access left him concerned about the future of the business district.

"Anger, fear," Smith said of his first reaction.  "Fear of the business district dying because this is the main thoroughfare."

"I would have gotten a construction company in here and I would have started leveling buildings," Gallenstein said. "That would have been the best business down here. It would have been a ghost town."

While the approved plan gets northbound drivers directly to 5th Street, southbound drivers will still have to decide around Ezzard Charles if they want to get off in Covington.

"We need the exit ramp closer to Covington so when they see Covington they can get off," Smith argued.

Klein says overall, however, the plan is a welcomed improvement.

"It means that Covington can keep our fair share and continue to grow our riverfront," he said. "It means opportunity, it means potential, it means none of that has been lost in this new plan."

The Ohio Department of Transportation expects the total project to cost between 2.5 and 2.8 billion dollars.

Stefan Spinosa, District 8 design engineer, says the federal stamp of approval means ODOT and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet can start using federal money for design, buying up right-of-way, and construction.

While the engineering plans have been approved, there are still two options on the table for the design of the new bridge. The options include an arch bridge that looks a lot like the I-471 "Big Mac" bridge. The second design is a two tower bridge anchored by cables.

Spinosa says, with the environmental impact and engineering plans approved, now the focus is on finding the money to build the project. He says some money has already been set aside in Ohio to begin right-of-way acquisition.

Copyright 2012 WXIX. All rights reserved.