Reality Check: Brent Spence roadblocks

The Brent Spence Bridge connects Covington, KY. to downtown Cincinnati. (Source: Flikr/punktoad)
The Brent Spence Bridge connects Covington, KY. to downtown Cincinnati. (Source: Flikr/punktoad)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The Brent Spence Bridge is more than fifty years old and carries an estimated 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product over the Ohio River every year.

The bridge has been deemed too outdated to adequately serve the needs of Tri-State motorists and commercial drivers who rely on the bridge each and every day.

One plan to cover the estimated $2.5 billion replacement price tag is tolls, just as with other big budget bridges throughout the country.

Drivers on Delaware's Memorial Bridge pay $4 to cross. In Pennsylvania, the Commodore Barry Bridge toll is $5, and in Maryland, spanning the heavily traveled Harry W. Nice Bridge is $6. For daily commuters that adds up to more than $1,500 dollars a year.

With prices so steep it's no surprise some lawmakers in northern Kentucky stand firmly against the idea of making motorists pay for a new Brent Spence bridge through tolls.

"Never has a delegation been united in Northern Kentucky on one issue as this," says state Rep. Arnold Simpson. "I can't imagine the state and governor would press ahead when elected representation of the community is solidly opposed to the plan."

FOX19 NOW reached out to the Covington representative, and asked if he thinks Washington should at least help pay for a new bridge.

"They have myriad options in Washington as well as myriad challenges … But this is a major corridor and should garner the attention it deserves." Simpson said.

So why hasn't the government stepped in?

Like the Brent Spence itself, the way government raises money for bridge improvement is antiquated and in need of replacement.

Back in 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act was signed into law, paid for courtesy of the federal gas tax; the 18.4 cents we currently pay to into the Highway Trust Fund for every gallon of gas and diesel we use. The Act was originally designed to provide 90 percent of highway construction costs with states pitching in the remaining ten percent.

But that was then and this is now, and the Highway Trust Fund is grossly under-funded.

The problem is motorists are using less gas because today's cars are a lot more fuel efficient than they used to be. Couple that with rising construction costs plus the growing list of bridges in need of repair and there isn't nearly enough money to pay for a new Brent Spence Bridge. Not to mention the other 63,000 bridges around the country in need of repair

The news isn't all bad. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown tells FOX19 NOW he's optimistic the government can help foot the bill for a new Brent Spence.

"I'm hopeful that in the next year or so we can get Ohio's Department of Transportation working with Kentucky's Department of Transportation and that the United States government will begin to invest the tax dollars we need," says Brown.

The bottom line is this: Unless Kentucky lawmakers can agree on passing the cost on to motorists through tolls, or until the government decides the bridge is too important to ignore, any Brent Spence Bridge replacement project remains well down the road.

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