Kentucky Politics

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine are asking the federal government for more than $2 billion to build a companion to the aging Brent Spence Bridge connecting Covington to Cincinnati.

The double-decker bridge has been plagued by congestion and accidents for years, frustrating northern Kentuckians, Cincinnatians and others crossing the Ohio River.

Beshear said he hoped to break ground on the project next year, with financing from the federal infrastructure bill.

“We are going to be able to secure a sizable federal grant under the infrastructure act. I think both Kentucky and Ohio are in a position to cover our end without the need for any tolls,” Beshear said.

The governors said the project will include three phases: building a companion bridge next to the existing Brent Spence Bridge, repairing the current structure and upgrading the interstate on both sides of the river.

The Brent Spence Bridge was built in 1963 and has been in need of repairs for years. The Federal Highway Administration declared it functionally obsolete in the 1990s.

The announcement from Beshear, a Democrat, and DeWine, a Republican, highlighted the ongoing bipartisan support for the infrastructure bill.

The bill passed out of Congress in November with the support of Kentucky’s senior Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. John Yarmuth. The rest of Kentucky’s federal delegation, all Republicans, voted against it.

Both Kentucky and Ohio’s legislatures will have to pay for part of the $2.8 billion project. Monday’s announcement means the two governors will jointly seek grant funding to finance the lion’s share of the effort.

DeWine said given the bridge’s importance to the region, he likes their chances.

“We believe that we can compete exceedingly well against other projects across the country and get the necessary money that’s needed so we can build this bridge without tolling,” DeWine said.

The bridge was closed for several weeks due to a chemical fire in 2020 and fully reopened after an eight-month cleaning and painting operation.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray said the fire, and cleanup, showed that the bridge isn’t going to fall anytime soon.

“The Brent Spence Bridge is a stout and sturdy structure that’s going to be carrying traffic over the Ohio River for many years to come. But it is crying out for help,” Gray said.

Repairing the bridge has been a political quagmire for Kentucky politicians for years, especially when it comes to the subject of tolling. Efforts to try and finance the project at the state level advanced only after lawmakers banned tolling.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.