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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A $1.5 Billion Ohio-To-Kentucky Toll Bridge: Will It Cost Some Coin To Cross The Ohio River?

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The estimated cost of replacing the aging and functionally obsolete Interstate 71/75 bridge that crosses the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati is staggering -- up to $1.5 billion. More than 155,000 vehicles cross it daily, and the span is one of the most heavily travelled bridges -- some say it is the most heavily -- bridges in the United States. Transportation officials in Ohio and Kentucky want to build a replacement, but nobody knows yet how to cover the enormous cost.

But a bill filed quietly last week in the Kentucky Legislature by that state's Republican Senate President might offer a clue about where the money may come from. The measure allows creation of "infrastructure authorities," which would have power to issue bonds and collect tolls to build highways and bridges. The text of the measure drafted by State Sen. David Williams is here.

Infrastructure authorities would also have the ability to lease out roads and bridges to private contractors, who would operate them for a profit. Ohio officials are already paying attention to the developments in Kentucky because none of the Ohio River bridges are actually owned or operated by the Ohio Department of Transportation. The river is in Kentucky, and the bridges themselves are under control of that state's highway department.

Two Kentucky bloggers were first to spot the bill last week, and immediately recognized it as a way to raise funds for aging bridges.

Interstate 71/75 is a transportation lifeblood for Ohio, and the bridge in Cincinnati is a linchpin to the state's economy. Traffic and goods would move much slower -- or bypass Ohio completely -- if the bridge was not there, or became disabled. Catallaxy said tolls might not be a bad thing:

"A public-private partnership could revitalize these aging bridges and even could result in a new bridge being built over the Ohio River without taxing the taxpayers. A toll is a great way to help pay for repair or new bridges . . .

"Any true conservative would realize that this bill could get the ball rolling for much needed bridge repairs in the Commonwealth without breaking the bank."

The Bellwether has caught whispers that a similar measure may surface in Ohio over the next several months. Construction costs for new bridges are now so enormous that they could outstrip government resources. Tolls are not a new revenue-generating idea in Ohio -- the I-80 Turnpike that crosses northern Ohio was constructed decades ago with money raised by toll-supported bonds.

Some background on the Brent Spence Bridge, as the Interstate 71/75 span is known. is available here.

Ohio and Kentucky do shares costs on bridges that stitch the two states together -- but Kentucky owns the spans.

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