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Plans to upgrade the interstate crossing between Ohio and Kentucky have been in the works for nearly two decades. Grants from last year’s infrastructure law will help to provide the funding needed to make construction possible.
President Biden will visit the Cincinnati area Wednesday to tout one of the biggest accomplishments of the 2021 infrastructure law to date: an agreement to upgrade an existing bridge and build a new crossing between Ohio and Kentucky.
The two states long disagreed over how a new bridge should be paid for, but the federal government went a long way toward solving that problem by awarding them$1.64 billion last week for the new span and related improvements. The entire project is expected to cost $3.6 billion.
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump visited the Brent Spence Bridge to boost their plans for more infrastructure spending, but neither of Biden’s immediate predecessors secured substantial new money for the project.
The Biden administration’s infrastructure law brought together prominent politicians of both parties to secure funding for the Ohio River crossings.
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown both plan to accompany Biden on the trip. For Kentucky, the deal brought together Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate.
“Ohio and Kentucky have been discussing the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project for almost two decades, and now, we can finally move beyond the talk and get to work,” DeWine, the Ohio governor, said in a statement.
“This project will not only ease the traffic nightmare that drivers have suffered through for years, but it will also help ensure that the movement of the supply chain doesn’t stall on this nationally significant corridor. My administration vowed to press the federal government to fund this project, and we’re glad that they have recognized its significance,” he added.
Construction on the upgrades could start this year. Work is expected to be completed by 2029.
Beshear told reporters that the federal grants were “one of the largest infrastructure grants in U.S. history.” The Kentucky governor said the improved crossings will strengthen the region’s economy.
“So much of our nation’s GDP crosses the Brent Spence Bridge every day and, while the bridge is structurally sound, it was not designed for the amount of traffic that it has. In other words, we have so much business going on that travels through there that it needs that companion bridge,” he said.
The existing Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 71 and 75 between Cincinnati and its northern Kentucky suburbs. The 60-year-old span now carries twice the traffic it was designed to handle, and engineers have deemed it structurally obsolete. Much of the added volume is from trucks traveling between the Midwest and the South.
The growing population in the Kentucky suburbs has added demand for a new river crossing, and Amazon in 2021 opened a $1.5 billion “air hub” at the region’s airport in northern Kentucky.
But Kentucky lawmakers balked at imposing tolls to pay for a new river crossing, an approach the state had used to help build two new bridges into Indiana from Louisville. That left few options for Kentucky to raise the money for its share of the project, before the federal infrastructure law passed.
The federal Transportation Department will award the states $250 million from its MEGA program. The states will also receive $1.385 billion from the Bridge Investment Program, a new discretionary grant program in the infrastructure law. The Ohio-Kentucky award is a sizable chunk of the $12.5 billion set aside for the bridge program over the next five years.
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval touted the new grants on Twitter. “This historic amount of support from President Biden and our federal partners—nearly 99% of the application’s request—means that we’re on pace to reshape our infrastructure and the economic growth of our region for generations to come,” he wrote.
“For projects like this, we simply can’t get them done on our own. But today is a perfect example of what can be accomplished through a strong regional collaboration,” Pureval added.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.
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