EDITORIAL: Best way to fund new bridge is tolling

The Brent Spence Bridge opened to traffic 50 years ago with what was then considered a forward-thinking design: a double-deck structure, one deck headed north, one headed south. It was built to carry 80,000 cars and 3,000 trucks a day, a substantial flow of traffic in 1963.

Fast forward to 2014 and the same bridge is now carrying double the traffic – 160,000 vehicles – with the number of trucks having grown tenfold to 30,000.

Every day.

The bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River, needs to be replaced. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way this multibillion-dollar project will be accomplished is if those who use the bridge help bear the cost of paying for it through tolls.

To guard public safety, promote the growth of the region’s economy, and protect and expand jobs, Northern Kentucky’s state legislators need to get on board with passing a law that would enable tolling as a method to finance the $3 billion-plus needed to build the bridge and miles of roadway approaching it.

Pressure is building on Northern Kentucky legislators to get behind a bill that could permit that state to finance construction by counting on the revenue from tolls. The thought of bridge tolls has been especially unpopular in Northern Kentucky, and legislators there and elsewhere in the state have been reluctant to endorse the necessary legislation. But business leaders are now ramping up the pressure in a bid to get that legislation passed this year. The Northern Kentucky CEO Roundtable, a group of 12 business, civic and philanthropic leaders, and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce have both formally endorsed tolls and urged legislators to do the same.

It’s encouraging to see business leaders do just that – lead – on this matter. Now our elected leaders in Northern Kentucky must do the same.

Kentucky needs to pass a law so major infrastructure projects can continue to get done in this era of scarce resources and budget deficits. A bill that won approval from a Kentucky House committee last week is a way to create new financing methods to build public projects. It would allow for the formation of public-private partnerships in which a private company could construct, finance or operate a public facility.

Frustration and impatience is evident among this part of the business community. “We are disappointed and troubled by those in our community – some of whom are our elected leaders and public servants – who are offering nothing more to this debate than fear and stonewalling,” the CEO group wrote.

The impatience is justified. A new bridge has been studied and debated for more than a decade. It’s estimated that construction costs increase by $100 million for each year of delay. Doing nothing is a risky alternative. The volume of traffic crossing the bridge has doubled since it was built. By 2040, it is estimated that vehicle traffic will approach 250,000 a day.

Read the complete article from Cincinnati.com here.