Tolls likely for proposed Ohio River bridge replacement

An artist’s rendering of one of the two possible options for the new Brent Spence Bridge.An artist’s rendering of one of the two possible options for the new Brent Spence Bridge.

Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky residents expressed mixed reactions to using tolling to help pay for proposed replacement of an area bridge that the Federal Highway Administration calls “functionally obsolete.”

A recent AAA survey found most locals want the Interstate 71-75 span replaced, but 59 percent of Kentucky residents and 48 percent of Ohio residents oppose using tolls to fund it. Kentucky elected officials have expressed more opposition to tolling than their Ohio counterparts.

The Federal Highway Administration describes the Brent Spence Bridge as “functionally obsolete” because of capacity, sight distance and safety issues.

Also, traffic significantly exceeds the bridge’s intended capacity and today truckers haul 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product across the 49-year-old span. Trucks normally are tolled at four to five times the rate of passenger vehicles, Ohio’s transportation department stated.

Governors for both states say tolling will be included as a method of paying for the bridge, according to the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition. The group represents individuals and organizations pushing for beginning work in 2014 to avoid the rise in projects costs that will occur with time.

Ohio and Kentucky will contribute money, but federal sources traditionally paid for 80 percent of mega-transportation projects.

However, no federal construction money has been identified. Federal earmarks are gone and the fuel tax formula has been insufficient to fill Highway Trust Fund coffers in recent years, ODOT said last month.

This April, the two states are expected to complete a Value for Money study, which will recommend how to do the project better, faster and cheaper. The current estimate is that it will take three to seven years at a cost of $2.5 billion to build the bridge and a few miles of highway to and from the span.