BRADENTON, Fla. — Kentucky and Ohio are forming a bi-state management team to determine how to finance a new, $2.5 billion bridge over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.
An agreement outlining the terms of how the two states will cooperatively build a new bridge adjacent to the existing, double-deck Brent Spence Bridge was signed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday.
The governors said travelers driving on Interstates 71 and 75 as well as local traffic across the existing, narrow bridge face gridlock daily.
They agreed that a second bridge is an “absolute necessity,” particularly since it is also a major freight corridor.
“I look forward to working closely with Gov. Beshear to make a real change and deliver the Brent Spence Bridge quickly,” Kasich said.
The transportation agencies in Kentucky and Ohio will formally establish the bi-state management team to jointly oversee building the new bridge and renovating the existing Brent Spence Bridge. It is not clear when appointments will be made.
The governors committed to split the $4 million cost to fund the management team and consultants, which will evaluate potential revenue sources to fund the project, including tolls, and comprehensively assess procurement options such as traditional financing and the use of a public-private partnership.
Kentucky does not have a state law authorizing the use of P3s, which could complicate a joint-state procurement approach if lawmakers refuse to consider such a measure during next year’s legislative session.
Ohio could finance the project on its own if Kentucky agreed with that approach.
Discussion about using a P3 at this point is “highly speculative,” said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
“At some point, a strategic decision will be made about the best way to proceed with this project,” he said.
Both governors on Wednesday said tolling the new bridge would be essential to help finance its construction. There was no discussion about tolling the existing bridge, which will be renovated.
Though tolling is a touchy issue in some parts of the region, Beshear said he did not believe a plan of finance could be developed without tolls.
“The idea of Uncle Sam riding in on a white horse and write a check is not going to happen,” he said. “If you want a bridge, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. Gov. Kasich and I are totally committed to this project.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who also attended Wednesday’s announcement, said that bridge projects currently being evaluated by his agency have multiple sources of funding, including tolls.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority decided recently to approach the Ohio Department of Transportation about using the authority to finance and build the Brent Spence Bridge project, according to published reports. The authority is scheduled to meet with ODOT on Friday.
The port authority has not contacted Kentucky officials, said Wolfe, the state’s transportation spokesman.
“The port authority never consulted us,” he said. “That [proposal] took us by surprise.”
The existing Brent Spence Bridge is owned by Kentucky, while the northern approach is owned and maintained by Ohio.
The new bridge project has been under way for a number of years. The Federal Highway Administration approved it earlier this year, and preliminary design work has been done.