Tolls to pay for Brent Spence Bridge improvements

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky announced today that they will pay for improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge using a toll fare that will be charged to drivers.

The Kentucky and Ohio state transportation agencies will working together to develop a plan to save money on a $2.6 billion replacement of the bridge. The agencies are expected to deliver ideas by March 30 and build a financial plan for the bridge’s future by the end of this year.

Revenues from the toll charges will be split evenly between Ohio and Kentucky, according to a statement from the governors. A 50 percent discount on toll rates will be available to frequent commuters.

The governors said Wednesday they want to develop a solution to improving the bridge soon and start construction as early as 2017. A five-year delay to construction could costs taxpayers $400 million because of inflation, according to to their analysis.

Replacement of the existing Brent Spence Bridge will double the number of highway lanes from eight to 16 and is meant to improve access to Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.

Earlier update:

The governors of Ohio and Kentucky are expected to make a major announcement Wednesday afternoon about the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.

The offices for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are keeping the joint announcement close to the vest, but it’s anticipated the top elected officials from the adjoining states will shed light on the plans for the Brent Spence Bridge, which is not up to current safety standards and has been deemed “functionally obsolete” by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory.

Kasich and Beshear are expected to make their announcement during a press conference at 1:30 p.m. at The Metropolitan Club in Covington, Ky.

The Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Ohio and Kentucky, and about 172,000 vehicles use the bridge every day. The bridge was originally designed to carry 80,000 vehicles a day. The corridor is key to the region to move commerce, but it’s also a vital thoroughfare that moves local traffic between the two states.

The plan is to refurbish the existing bridge — which carries northbound traffic on a lower deck and southbound traffic on its upper deck — and build a second bridge. The existing bridge will carry northbound I-71 traffic on top and local northbound traffic on its lower deck. The new bridge will carry southbound I-71 and I-75 traffic on a top deck with northbound I-75 traffic on a lower deck with southbound local traffic.

The multi-billion-dollar project is waiting for the Kentucky legislature to give the state the authority to allow a toll on the bridge in Kentucky. Ohio has already authorized that to happen in 2014, and the issue has been stalled in the Kentucky General Assembly.

“For the bridge (project) to move forward, it’s important Kentucky gets the legislative authority, and if that doesn’t happen, we need to look back over the project development scheduled,” said Brian Cunningham, district communication manager for the Ohio Department of Transportation in Lebanon. “Because without that, we won’t be able to develop a financing plan to fund construction.”

And that financing plan does include tolls — which reports indicate it could be as much as $1 — and federal and state gas taxes. Cunningham said the nearly eight-mile project cannot be funded by the gas taxes alone.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the project will lead to tens of thousands of jobs, have an $18.9 billion economic impact and “position the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky regions for growth for years to come.”

In an interview with this newspaper at his Washington, D.C., office, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said funding for the Brent Spence Bridge project has been an obstacle for the last several years, and the Highway Transportation Fund — which could help in funding the project — “has been getting deprived of needed revenue” due to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Boehner said it’s “real important” Congress passes a long-term highway bill for the next five to seven years.

“When we did these one-year patches, two-year patches — I would hate to think we would have to do it again,” Boehner said. “It doesn’t get to the long-term infrastructure problems we have, such as the Brent Spence Bridge, which is a long-term project (that) needs a long-term funding stream.”

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