Beshear: Brent Spence announcement to come in 2023

The construction of a companion bridge to the Brent Spence is inching closer to reality.
Work performed on the Brent Spence Bridge in 2021.
Work performed on the Brent Spence Bridge in 2021.(Brent Spence Bridge Info Twitter)
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 8:10 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - Gov. Andy Beshear said in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday evening that the Brent Spence Bridge project could get underway in 2023.

Beshear will unveil his budget next week. On Wednesday, before the Kentucky General Assembly, he promised it will include “historic investments” in education, economic development initiatives and essential workers like state police, nurses and teachers.

He also said the budget will continue investments in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

About the Brent Spence Bridge, he said the budget will “move us ever closer to the announcement, which I hope and expect we will make next year, that we will construct a Brent Spence companion bridge without tolls.”

‘Flyover State’ no more: Watch Beshear’s full State of the Commonwealth address

It’s among the first hints of a timetable for the bridge project, which has lived a largely wishful existence in renderings and political rhetoric for most of the last two decades.

Serious talk of progress began in early 2021 as Congress took up President Joe Biden’s touted infrastructure plan.

Biden’s callout of the project in Cincinnati in July served as a reminder of its importance as a freight bottleneck.

Beshear himself vowed in August the project would not require tolls, long a sticking point among Northern Kentucky politicians anxious that tolls would reduce bridge traffic to the detriment of their local economies.

Some of those politicians remain opposed to the project, calling it over-designed, over-priced and “horribly flawed.”

FOX19 caught up with Covington Mayor Joseph Meyer following the passage of the infrastructure bill in November.

Meyer maintains his criticism of the project, saying its proponents are “trying to pave their way out of congestion without addressing obvious bottlenecks and induced demand.”

The mayor worries the proposed design doesn’t address southbound congestion, as the interstate will remain four lanes past Kyles Lane. “Congestion during the evening rush hour, already a problem, will become worse,” he said.

Covington also stands to suffer, Meyer argues, as diversion during construction of the companion bridge, which is estimated to last five years, could damage local businesses, residents and neighborhoods.

From a financing perspective, Beshear has said his administration will apply for grants in the infrastructure bill to get the bridge project done.

“I want to do what it takes,” he said. “I want to get this thing done. We’ve talked about it for decades. This is our best opportunity to do it. I want to be the governor that gets this done. What was once viewed as impossible suddenly now seems to be very possible.”

The bill distributes $438 million to Kentucky and $483 million to Ohio for bridges. Another $12.5 billion is available in competitive grants for bridge projects, according to Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, one of the bill’s architects.

A separate pool of about $16 billion is for “major projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding programs,” according to the White House. Beshear’s administration is expected to apply for a grant for the Brent Spence project drawing from those funds.

Beshear said additional amounts could be sourced from Kentucky’s general fund or reserve trust fund. He also said the project might not require bond financing depending on the financial climate.

The Brent Spence, a double-decker bridge spanning the Ohio River from Downtown Cincinnati to Covington, opened in 1963 as part of that initial wave of federal highway construction.

The bridge’s emergency shoulders were eliminated in 1985. It now carries twice its intended daily vehicle throughput and ten times its intended truck traffic, earning it the Ohio Department of Transportation designation of functionally obsolete.

Nevertheless, recent inspections found the bridge to be structurally sound, and a renovation project that included the bridge’s first repainting since 1991 finished last year.

The bridge is centrally important to the federal highway system. It carries three percent of the U.S. gross national product every year and is one of the nation’s busiest by freight volume.

The Brent Spence Bridge corridor project focuses on adding a second bridge beside the current one to relieve traffic.

Progress is happening slowly on the initial phases in Ohio. ODOT has committed $130 million in state TRAC grants for approach work. Property acquisition and utility relocation are underway. Detailed design work was scheduled to begin in 2021.

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