|Alaska's Bridge To Nowhere Outranked Cincinnati's Span|
UPDATE 2:00 pm -- This link
leads to the official cost estimates for the bridge and approaches over the Ohio River. They were issued by state transit officials 11 months ago. The cost is based on a Jan. 1, 2016 construction start date.
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- President Obama is trying to prod reluctant Republicans to spend federal money on a new $571 million to $668 million bridge project over the Ohio River. He's in town today making his case. The existing Brent Spence Bridge was built in 1963 to carry Interstate 75 traffic. It is now worn out, congested and creaking from 200,000 vehicles that cross every day. Local officials in Kentucky and Ohio have been lobbying for a replacement at least since 2002 -- without any luck. In 2004, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell said a "family fight" between Republicans in the House, Republicans in the Senate and Republican President George W. Bush had held up a transportation bill that was supposed to have funds for a Brent Spence replacement. Guess what happened? When the $286 billion highway bill passed, a huge chunk of bridge money went to Alaska. The Ohio River span got crumbs.
Critics have called the Republican transportatiion bill an homage to the pork barrel. And that is true -- there were 6,371 earmarks, a trainload of pork. Salon wrote about the waste and calculated the bill spent $86 on every American, and $1,500 on every Alaskan. McConnell, who voted for the huge pork barrel bill, is now trying to portray Obama as a big spender who wants to waste money and run up the debt with his jobs bill. McConnell was the Senate Whip in 2004 and helped get the pork barrel measure passed. Obama, then an Illinois senator, voted for the measure, as did Vice President Joe Biden, then a Maryland senator. But McConnell's GOP was calling all the shots. The late GOP Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska chaired the Appropriations Committee; GOPer Don Young, Alaska's only congressman, ran the House Transportation Committee. He once said he "stuffed the bill like a turkey." Meanwhile, Cincinnatians kept driving over a worn out bridge, and they still are.
In 2004, McConnell went to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce before the highway bill passed and said he knew the Brent Spence was deteriorating. But McConnell refused to say he would seek all the money necessary to replace the bridge. Local leaders pushed him to recognize that it was critical to both Ohio and Kentucky's transportation systems. A Kentucky elected official said after the Chamber session that the bridge was a "commercial artery that is aorta-sized" and that it needed to be fixed. Instead, the McConnell helped deliver a bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Wikipedia has a very accurate recounting of the history of the bridge to nowhere. Arizona Sen. John McCain ripped the project and said it was a shame money was going to Alaska when other highway projects trumped that project. McCain said a Minnesota bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi River in 2007 should have got the money. He didn't mention the Brent Spence -- it didn't seem to be on many agendas outside the Ohio River Valley. Now Obama is putting it high on the list of projects Washington should fund. It's about time.