Northern Kentucky business and labor leaders want the $2.6 billion renovation of the Brent Spence Bridge funded in any way possible, but many state lawmakers aren’t willing to support one option—tolls—in an election year.
There’s just not much money for new infrastructure, with a state highway trust fund poised to dip into the red pending federal inaction, and road receipts projected to decline in the future due to high gas prices and more fuel efficient cars.
That’s why Brent Cooper, interim president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, supports any means necessary—be it tolling or public-private partnerships—to fund the Brent Spence bridge project, which he says has importance not just to his region, but to the state and the nation.
“The Brent Spence bridge project isn’t just unique to Northern Kentucky’s needs,” he says.
“It has an economic nexus to the entire state. I know I’ve heard comments saying, ‘Well, that’s Northern Kentucky’s problem.’ Folks, I’m telling you, it is not. Ninety-percent of Toyota’s supply chain crosses that bridge. 700 trucks a day. It is not just Northern Kentucky.”
But Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Democrat from Covington, says proposals that may cover the project’s costs from Republican U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as Alison Lundergan Grimes, should be studied. He argues it a job for the federal government to figure out.
“Let’s see how that plays out,” Simpson says. “Hopefully, Washington will recognize that it is their inherent responsibility to address projects, particularly projects of this magnitude, that you’re correct: That not impacts Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati, and Kentucky, but the nation.”
Lawmakers also say they’re still looking at ways to mitigate the effects of tolling from the Ohio River Bridges Project on low-income residents. Louisville Rep. Jim Wayne introduced a bill that would provide a tax credit toward this end during this year’s session, but his bill died in committee.