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Voinovich Reopens Tolls Discussion to Pay for Bridge

Tue June 03, 2008 - Midwest Edition
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CINCINNATI (AP) U.S. Sen. George Voinovich wants to reopen talks on an idea that has already led to a public outcry — charging tolls to pay for a new bridge to link two interstates from Ohio to Kentucky.

The Ohio Republican said tolls cannot be ruled out of the discussion in planning a replacement for the 45-year-old Brent Spence Bridge, which carries 150,000 cars and trucks a day across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.

The bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 needs replacement because it’s overcrowded, too narrow and lacks emergency breakdown lanes. The cost of replacement is estimated at $750 million.

Two bills to authorize tolls to pay for the bridge died this spring in the Kentucky Legislature under pressure from the public. Kentucky owns the bridge and most of the river.

However, Voinovich said tolls must be part of the discussion to replace it. He planned to meet officials from both states on April 21.

“Sure, it’s going to be one of the options,” he said. “It’s got to be looked at.”

Kentucky alone cannot be expected to pay for it, Voinovich said.

“It can’t happen without federal funding,” said Voinovich, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees interstate highways. “The question is how much federal funding — and that has to do with some major decisions we make with regard to not only that bridge but nationally.

“You’ve got an interstate system. Is it fair to say to Kentucky, ’You’ve got to pick up the tab entirely for an interstate project?’ I think you’ve got to start looking nationally at our highway system.”

Kentucky state Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, who opposed the tolls, agreed the project needs help from the federal government.

“It’s a federal system that connects the nation,” he said. “Bridges are only the surface of the issue. Much larger is the issue of the responsibility of the federal government to maintain these throughways.”

Voinovich said the region’s economy depends on keeping its infrastructure strong.

“I don’t think it’s just an issue for Kentucky and Ohio,” he said. “It’s a national issue that needs to be addressed,” Voinovich said. “Either we’re going to face up to our infrastructure needs or we’re going to put ourselves in a position where we’re not going to be as competitive as we should be.”

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission estimates $225 billion a year will be needed through 2058 to upgrade the nation’s transportation system.

“The fact is, we are not getting the job done,” Voinovich said.

The Brent Spence and other projects were discussed by local officials who visited Washington recently to urge Kentucky’s delegation to find money for the region.

Kentucky has primary responsibility for the Brent Spence Bridge, but is working closely with Ohio, where a long-term Interstate 75 improvement project is projected to be completed with construction of the new bridge about a decade from now.

The project has powerful advocates in Washington, including Voinovich and Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican who is on the Senate Budget and Finance committees. Both will be involved in working out a new six-year highway bill in 2009.

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