FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — State lawmakers will debate the future of the Brent Spence bridge this week as part of the state’s multi-billion road spending plan.
The 50-year-old, double decker bridge connects Covington with Cincinnati and has become a poster child for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It carries more traffic than it is designed to hold and frequently snarls traffic along I-71 and I-75, major corridors connecting the southern United States with the Midwest.
Kentucky owns the bridge and is responsible for its maintenance. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear included $1.7 billion from tolls in his road spending proposal earlier this year. But House and Senate lawmakers removed that money after objections from their northern Kentucky constituents who commute to Cincinnati for work.
The Houses plan is to spend $3.9 billion in state and federal money to repair and replace state roads and bridges. It includes $107 million officials say will come from a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax. The Senate plan is $3.6 billion and does not include the gas tax increase.
House lawmakers were hesitant to commit more money to the bridge project given its uncertain future. Their version of the road spending plan includes $22 million in federal money left over from an earmark. The Senate’s plan – approved Wednesday – includes the $22 million plus an additional $37 million in state and federal money to begin acquiring land for the project.
“We have restored the funding to keep the project moving forward. If we don’t, the project will be delayed and who knows what the future would hold,” said Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Ohio has spent $68.1 million and Kentucky has spent $20.9 million on the project so far, according to Russ Romine, deputy secretary for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
The difference will be one of the items lawmakers will have to sort out this week as lawmakers wrap up the 2014 legislative session.
“We are at a point now where it is doesn’t really serve any purpose to spend additional dollars on it until we know how we are going to move forward financially with it,” said Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford and chairman of the House budget committee. “Tolls are going to have to be part of it. There is no way possible that you know the commonwealth of Kentucky has enough federal funds to build that bridge. Even probably with Ohio’s help.”
But most northern Kentucky lawmakers, including Senate president pro tempore Katie Stine, R-Southgate, say they will not vote to build the bridge “on the backs of northern Kentuckians.”
“I am absolutely adamant that for a federal government that is literally printing money and seems to have the resources to do every other thing in the world, surely they can find adequate funding to support something that is clearly their obligation,” Stine said.