OKI plans new Ohio River bridge
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 23:02
To relieve the chronic congestion in Cincinnati and Northern Kentuckty’s Brent Spence Bridge Corridor, where Interstates 71, 74 and 75 converge at the Ohio River, a new bridge will be built. The current Brent Spence Bridge has been deemed “functionally obsolete” by the National Bridge Inventory.
The Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) is partnering with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to “unsnarl this traffic knot,” according to OKI.
The old Brent Spence Bridge would be rehabbed to relieve congestion, according to Brian Cunningham, director of communications and legislative affairs at OKI.
“The current Brent Spence Bridge was built more than 50 years ago for 80,000 cars a day, and today 172,000 cars currently cross that bridge every single day,” Steve Faulkner, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said.
Over years of increasing traffic volume, modifications to the Brent Spence Bridge increased its capacity by removing shoulders, according to Cunningham. The top lanes, once three lanes and a shoulder, were converted into four lanes without a shoulder.
When refurbished, the old bridge’s top lanes will be reconfigured into two lanes and two shoulders, according to Faulkner.
“This bridge was built for a certain capacity once upon a time using standards that were in place once upon a time,” Faulkner said. “Standards change, needs change, populations grow and we need transportation infrastructure that meets those needs.”
He added that models project the corridor to handle up to 240,000 vehicles a day in the future.
“Everyone is aware of the importance of the replacement of the bridge,” Ken Bogard, Oxford city councilman who attended the Feb. 14 OKI meeting, said.
Cunningham said that while the Brent Spence Bridge is functionally obsolete, it is not structurally unsound. Rather, it is unsafe because of the excessive volume of traffic, resulting accidents, and the difficulty of emergency response, according to Cunningham.
A lack of shoulders makes the bridge unsafe, Bogard said. A man once exited his vehicle to help a stalled motorist and, in doing so, was struck by a vehicle and flung over the bridge, according to Bogard.
About $417 billion in freight travels through the corridor yearly, according to Bogard.
“For a bridge that carries 4 percent of the nation’s GDP every year, at the confluence of I-71 and I-75, that’s huge,” Faulkner said.
Bogard added that while the rebuilt corridor will be only eight miles long, it is the lynchpin that connects commerce across 10 states, from Michigan to Florida. The bridge is the critical passage along this 2,160 mile corridor.
The structure’s importance and current state of disrepair have officials looking to fast-track a new construction project, according to Bogard. Financing is hoped to be in place for construction to begin in 2015, he said.
According to Bogard, the new bridge will initially cost $2.7 billion, though he said he expects the final cost to rise to $3 billion, due to cost overruns.
“If we wait until 2018 to begin, and complete construction in 2022 that will cost $500 million more,” Bogard said.
“The funding will come from both Ohio and Kentucky’s departments of transportation, whose dollars are allocated from the Federal Government,” Cunningham said.
Generally, 80 percent of such projects are funded federally with the remaining 20 percent being local match, according to Cunningham. Though the exact breakdown is unknown, Cunningham said this roughly 20 percent will arrive by tolls, bond issues and public-private partnerships.
“Right now, we don’t know how much Ohio, Kentucky and the federal government can bring to the table,” Faulkner said. “We’re trying to identify the smallest amount possible that needs financed then paid back with toll money over time.”
When a bridge links two states, the biggest question is how to divide the cost.
“I’m not sure of the exact split,” Cunningham said, “but it’s an eight mile project involving I-75 south of the river and north of the river. I’d say it’s roughly 53 [percent in Kentucky]/47 [percent in Ohio].”
Cunningham stressed that financing is still being worked out.
Public support is currently very much in favor of the project. According to OKI, of 2,600 respondents to an American Automobile Association survey of the tri-state region, more than 90 percent are in favor of building a new bridge.
With more than 60 percent who said they feel the bridge is unsafe and 67 percent believing new infrastructure will improve the regional economy, only 48 percent of respondents support tolls as a funding source, according to OKI.
Bogard said that unlike Ohio and Indiana, Kentucky has yet to pass legislation to support the construction of a new bridge, according to Bogard.