Sec. of Transportation gives update on Brent Spence Bridge replacement

States must agree on plan for Brent Spence Bridge, transportation official says
Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 7:24 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Several Greater Cincinnati counties are receiving $3.4 million in emergency relief dollars from the federal government for road and bridge repairs, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

None of it will go toward the Brent Spence Bridge, according to Sec. of Transportation Elaine Chao.

The problem, according to Chao, is Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana aren’t on the same page about what is needed and how it will be paid for. That makes the project far from ideal as a prospect for DOT funding.

“When community and states agree on a course of action, number one, that makes it easier on a course of action from us, the Department of Transportation,” Chao said. “Number two, when there is consensus and agreement on a project, it speaks to the much greater probability of success, success being defined as on budget and on schedule.”

Chao’s comments read like a checklist of what the Brent Spence Bridge project lacks: agreement, consensus, a budget and a schedule.

That’s a far cry from what Chao’s boss, President Donald Trump, had to say about the project during the 2016 presidential campaign and more recently in an interview with FOX19 NOW, when Trump promised to fix the bridge.

“We’re going to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure and we’re going to renew our country. We have no choice. The roads, the bridges, the airports, the schools,” he told FOX19 NOW. “We’re going to spend money on our country.”

That hasn’t happened. The House of Representatives passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill in June. The Republican-controlled Senate has not moved on it.

Trump voiced support for infrastructure funding as part of a fourth pandemic stimulus package during his 2020 State of the Union, but political support for a deal, including among his own party’s leadership, proved nonexistent.

Meanwhile, the Brent Spence Bridge continues to putter along in a state of functional obsolescence. That is, it’s overcapacity, currently carrying 160,000 cars per day when it was designed to carry just 80,000, according to ODOT’s Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project website, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s structurally deficient or inherently unsafe.

The ‘projected timeline' page on that ODOT website, by the way, only runs up to 2017, to give an idea of the apparent doldrum in which the bridge project finds itself. At the same time, construction (and property conveyances) along the I-75 corridor on either side of the river continue.

That those corridor projects, including the Western Hills Viaduct, are potential preconditions to any work on a new bridge could be contributing to a public perception gap surrounding that bridge’s urgency.

As to the bridge’s priority (number two, according to Trump) on ODOT’s national ranking, Chao denied the existence of such a list.

“Contrary to what some people have said, there is not a real national ranking of projects,” she explained.

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