Saturday, January 25, 2003

Brent Spence study begins as funding questions arise

Concern over who will pay for bridge

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - As a study into what to do about the Brent Spence Bridge officially gets under way, members of the area's congressional delegation are saying it will be difficult for regional officials to ask the federal government for all the money to renovate or replace it.

"It's always got a better shot if there is a local share involved there," U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said Friday after a speech to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is mounting a major push to secure at least $500 million to renovate or replace the 39-year-old bridge.

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"The entire region has to make this the priority or one of the priorities, or it won't have a chance," Mr. Chabot said. "But to do that, all the parties from the local, state and federal level have to be on the same page."

The bridge, which connects downtown Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, is the conduit for Interstates 71 and 75. It handles more than 140,000 vehicles a day. Projections call for that number to rise to 182,000 vehicles daily by 2020, and past studies say that if nothing is done, the bridge has about 12 to 15 years of structural stability left.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet this week said a 30-month, $2 million study to determine the best options for replacing or renovating the bridge had officially begun. Engineering firm Burgess & Niple of Columbus is conducting the study, and a local advisory committee is being formed to oversee the effort.

Several area business and elected officials are going to push money for the bridge to be authorized this fall by Congress in the next version of the transportation authorization law that expires this year. Congress would also have to appropriate the funds later.

One strategy that has been discussed is to get the federal government to pay the full cost of the project on the basis that the bridge is a major linchpin in the entire federal interstate system - I-75, for example, is the heaviest traveled truck route in the country.

Mr. Chabot said he couldn't predict whether such an effort would be successful. He did say that in the current federal budget climate, it would be difficult for Washington to foot the entire bill.


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