The Kentucky legislative session is more than halfway over, and Northern Kentucky state lawmakers show no signs of embracing tolls — despite support for them from the Ohio and Kentucky governors, business leaders and lawmakers elsewhere, who think tolls are the only way to finance the $2.6 billion project.
Kentucky owns the bridge, and the Northern Kentucky delegation holds almost all the power on whether the project gets done. But no one has come up with another money source besides tolls to pay for the bridge replacement and highway corridor overhaul.
“I don’t think it’s ever gonna be dead until it’s addressed, but it’s probably not going to move forward right now,” said Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “Over time, they’re going to have to replace that bridge.”
It's pretty simple: if northern Kentucky lawmakers vote to stick voters like me with the bill through tolls, they'll be unemployed. Everyone else in Kentucky and Ohio wants to do just that. But Democrat or Republican, liberal blogger or Tea Party patriot, you will see any state lawmaker around here who votes to pay for the new Brent Spence through $2-$5 tolls each way get launched out of office at near relativistic speeds. And they know it.
Ohio and Kentucky have spent or committed $104.9 million to the project since 2005. Top regional businesses, meanwhile, have invested more than $2 million since 2012 to advocate for a new bridge on Interstates 71 and 75 — fearing that nightmarish rush-hour congestion on the 50-year-old Brent Spence will eventually hinder the region’s ability to retain and add jobs.
Northern Kentucky lawmakers’ inability to move the project along could become a real problem for Ohio, which has no power to get the project done despite paying for almost half of it. Ohio is in the midst of a massive overhaul of I-75, a plan that calls for remaking several interchanges and adding a lane each direction along a 17-mile section.
The Brent Spence Bridge is scheduled to be replaced in 2035. It is “functionally obsolete” because of its narrow lanes, lack of emergency shoulders and limited visibility on the lower deck. The bridge carries double its intended traffic each day, but is structurally sound and in no danger of falling, engineers say.
Everyone acknowledges we need a new bridge. Nobody wants to pay for it, especially not through a regressive toll that would cost commuters a couple thousand a year.