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Tolling Big Part of Equation for New Bridge, Officials Say

The multibillion-dollar project would build a new span alongside the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.

Thu January 16, 2014 - Midwest Edition
Bruce Schreiner - ASSOCIATED PRESS

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) Tolls would be used to cover nearly all the costs for building a proposed Ohio River bridge touted as a way to relieve congestion on an aging span at Cincinnati, according to a plan released by Kentucky and Ohio officials.

The multibillion-dollar project would build a new span alongside the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Cincinnati and Covington, Ky. It also would renovate the Brent Spence, which opened in 1963, and make improvements to nearly 8 mi. (12.8 km) of highway leading up to the project on both sides of the river.

The preliminary plan was submitted to the Federal Highway Administration.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said it represents a “starting point’’ for the neighboring states in looking for the best option to pay for the massive upgrades along the busy corridor.

“This initial financial plan will be updated many times along the way,’’ Hancock said.

Construction costs are pegged at $2.63 billion, according to the plan. When adding financing and interest costs, total upfront funding is estimated at $3.57 billion, it said.

Toll-backed financing would account for more than $3.3 billion of the amount, it said.

The report by transportation officials in both states said “alternative approaches’’ to financing the project are necessary, due partly to the limited availability of federal funding.

“At existing funding levels, constructing the project would absorb both states’ entire major new funding capacity for several years,’’ it said. “Therefore, alternative delivery and funding options, including tolling, are necessary to ensure the project is built in the foreseeable future.’’

Toll revenues would be used to repay bonds issued to finance the project. The report didn’t mention proposed toll rates for motorists. Tolling for the project would require legislative approval in Kentucky. Ohio already has tolling authority, the report said.

Officials from both states said they currently anticipate contracting with a private company that would be responsible for designing and building the new bridge.

The report lists 2020 as the project’s anticipated completion date.

The neighboring states see the new bridge as a way to unsnarl traffic at a site singled out by President Barack Obama as an example of the nation’s aging network of bridges. During a 2011 visit to Cincinnati, Obama highlighted the Brent Spence as an example of the need for job-creating infrastructure projects across the country.

The Brent Spence carries about 160,000 vehicles daily, twice the traffic load it was designed to handle, the report said. Traffic volumes are expected to reach more than 230,000 vehicles per day by 2035, it said.

The aging bridge carries traffic over the Ohio River along two interstates — I-75 and I-71.

The proposed new bridge would carry traffic headed in both directions on I-75, as well as southbound I-71 traffic, Kentucky officials said. The renovated Brent Spence would carry northbound I-71 traffic.

The report met a mandate from the Kentucky General Assembly, which directed state transportation officials to submit an initial plan by the end of 2013. A financial plan is not required by the Federal Highway Administration until a project is ready for construction.

Kentucky is partnering with Indiana on another costly bridge project over the Ohio River. Work is under way on the $2.6 billion project that will build two new spans — one at downtown Louisville and the other east of the city — and renovate a third bridge.

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