The Brent Spence Bridge project is more than just construction of a new bridge across the Ohio River.
The mega-transportation project includes construction of a new bridge, rehabilitation of the existing Brent Spence Bridge, and reconstruction of a 7.8-mile segment of I-75 from just north of the Western Hills Viaduct in Ohio to the Dixie Highway interchange in Fort Mitchell, KY. The total project cost is currently estimated at $2.7 billion. Construction of the new bridge is only about one-third of the total project cost.
The Brent Spence Bridge, which now carries Interstate traffic across the Ohio River, will turn 50 years old in 2013. The existing bridge carries more than 175,000 cars and trucks each day — more than double what it was built to accommodate. Federal transportation officials have designated the bridge as “functionally obsolete.” The bridge has one of the highest crash rates in the nation, and over the past decade, three people have died helping stranded motorists on the bridge. Police and emergency medical personnel respond to more than 650 accidents and incidents on the bridge each year.
Proposed design of the bridge corridor in Cincinnati
One of the longest and busiest interstate trade corridors
I-75 is one of the busiest and longest continuous interstate trade corridors in North America. One end of I-75 begins in Miami/Dade County, Florida and extends northward through Detroit, Michigan, where it connects with Canadian Highway 401, a major highway linking Detroit with Toronto and Montreal. I-71, which runs from Louisville to Cleveland, comes together with I-75 in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky to cross the Brent Spence Bridge. These two interstate highway corridors share the same alignment for approximately 18 miles in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
More than $400 billion in freight crosses the existing bridge every year. That’s nearly $1.1 billion a day. By 2030, $830 billion in freight (in 2005 dollars) will cross the bridge annually. That’s more than $2.2 billion a day. Truck traffic on the bridge has grown from approximately 12,000 in 1990 to more than 40,000 today, which represents about one quarter of all the traffic on the bridge. Construction of a new bridge is projected to save $748 million annually (in 2005 dollars). This amount includes $684 million in savings for manufacturers and shippers of products.
Truck traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge
New bridge brings economic benefits
The economic benefit of a new bridge to commuters, shippers, and manufacturers is estimated at $18.7 billion 20 years after the investment of $2.7 billion to build the bridge and related infrastructure improvements. That’s a 600 percent return on investment over that time period. The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) estimates that building the new bridge will create anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 new jobs including the construction jobs for building the bridge and the jobs created from sustained and improved economic development.
Without a new interstate bridge and robust transportation system, Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky will not be able to compete in the global economy. The bridge brings jobs to our region. Nearly 80 percent of the one million jobs in this region are within five miles of I-75. Not only will construction of a new bridge create new jobs, but reducing existing congestion and improving traffic flow across the bridge is crucial for keeping existing jobs and attracting new businesses to our region.
Businesses not only rely on the bridge for transporting their goods — more than $1 billion in freight crosses the bridge every day – but the bridge also enables many employees to commute to and from their homes and jobs.
If our interstate traffic network fails, existing companies will leave the region and new companies will not locate here. A failed transportation system will discourage economic investment in our community, especially those companies who rely upon the interstate system to deliver goods and services. Companies will not stay or locate in an area where they are not able to receive or deliver goods and services to customers in a timely fashion.
In addition, companies in our region will have trouble recruiting and keeping quality employees if congestion continues and employees’ commute time continues to increase with no solution in sight.
Proposed design of bridge corridor in Covington
Building the bridge NOW saves taxpayers time and money
Congestion caused by the Brent Spence Bridge costs 3.6 million person-hours of delay each year for passenger cars and 240,000 vehicle-hours of annual delay for commercial vehicles, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. The study noted that a new bridge would reduce the delay for passenger cars by 80 percent and the delay for commercial vehicles by 88 percent.
In a study conducted by OKI, the agency found that if a new bridge is not built, future congestion and delays would be staggering. In 2005, it took just over 30 minutes to get from Kings Island to downtown Cincinnati. Without a new bridge, this same trip will take 2 hours, 15 minutes in 2040. Without a new bridge, in 25 years, a trip between the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and downtown will take an extra hour and 14 minutes more than the time that the same trip took in 2005. Similarly, a trip from Eastgate to downtown Cincinnati will take an extra hour and 10 minutes without a new bridge and transportation system in place.
In addition, every year we wait to build the bridge means higher material and labor costs. We will save $8 million per month by building the bridge sooner rather than later. To build the bridge sooner rather than later, our region must investigate innovative ways to fund and finance the project and create the public-private partnerships needed to build the bridge, as other communities around the country have done in recent years.
Paying for the project
In August 2012, the federal government approved the Ohio Department of Transportation’s preferred plan for a new Brent Spence Bridge. In a seven-page report, the Federal Highway Administration determined that the project will have not have a detrimental effect on the environment, clearing the way for officials to proceed with other critical steps, such as deciding on a bridge design and acquiring property along the 7.8-mile corridor.
While the FHWA’s “finding of no significant impact” to human and natural environments and water and air quality is a positive step and allows additional steps toward construction to take place, funding for construction for the bridge and other infrastructure must still be secured.
Although the federal government traditionally has paid 80 percent of mega-transportation projects like this one, to date, no funding has actually been secured for this project. The Highway Trust Fund, which has funded many road projects in the past, is going broke. The Highway Trust Fund is funded by a per-gallon tax on gasoline (not a percent of cost, like a sales tax), so this tax does not increase as gas prices rise, and it does not adjust for inflation. The tax has remained constant at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.
The states of Kentucky and Ohio will be responsible for at least a 20 percent match of the cost of the project.The local match for this project is approximately $480 million, which is split between Kentucky 54% ($259.2 million) and Ohio 46% ($220.8 million). Kentucky pays more because more of the bridge – and overall project costs — are located in Kentucky.
Because these state governments do not have the funds to pay for this match, they must examine alternative methods of paying for their share, such as availability payments, tolls, and other financing options. Having the bridge built as public-private “design-build” project could shave years and millions of dollars off the project. The longer we wait to accomplish this, the more expensive the bridge becomes and the more difficult it will be to advance the project.