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Ohio Governor Signs Toll Bill in Cincinnati, Covington Commissioner Vows to Fight It

Ohio Governor John Kasich arrived in Cincinnati on Wednesday to sign into a law a bill that passed his state's legislature that would allow tolls to be used as part of the Brent Spence Bridge project.

Kentucky's legislators have so far refused to cooperate in a deal that involves toll on the massive $2.6 billion project that would expand lanes of congested highway on both sides of the river and create a new span adjacent to the existing and functionally obsolete Brent Spence.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has supported moving forward with tolling while the region's federal delegation, which includes the powerful positions of Speaker of the House and Senate Minority Leader, have also indicated that the bridge will not be funded without tolls.

When local legislators in Northern Kentucky railed against proposed legislation that would have allowed tolls, tens of millions of allocated funds were yanked from the project.

Kasich and his legislators decided that Ohio would soldier on.

“When Kentucky got off track, there was a sense that maybe we ought to wait. Why don’t we wait and see what they do in Kentucky?” Kasich said, as reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier. “We made it very clear: That’s totally unacceptable. Ohio has to lead. Ohio has always been a leader. We’re going to lead here.”

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Josh Pichler wrote on Wednesday that it is time for Kentucky to act on the bridge. "The region has a lot going for it right now, so it's frustrating that the national headline coming out of Cincinnati Wednesday will be that the governor of Ohio feels it's necessary – once again – to highlight the fact that his state shares a functionally obsolete, dangerous and productivity-sapping bridge with another state that won't do anything about it," Pichler wrote.

And if Covington City Commissioner Steve Frank's appearance on 700 WLW's Bill Cunningham Show is any indication, the Northern Kentucky side of the river will continue not to budge. The vocal anti-toll Frank told Cunningham that tolls "will help kill Covington".

"Might as well stick a fork in us," Frank said. "We make a lot of money affectionately selling nights out and less expensive booze and cigarettes to Buckeyes. If it's five bucks to come to Covington and free to go to Newport, I know which town is going out of business."

Frank cited what he called a rumor that tolls could begin at Buttermilk Pike which would cost drivers coming from south of there to Covington. "We could be the city under the bubble. Pay to get to us from Florence, pay to get to us from Cincinnati," Frank said.

Frank is part of a city commission that includes Chuck Eilerman, Mildred Rains, and Michelle Williams, who have all gone on the record opposed to tolls. Only Mayor Sherry Carran has been willing to move the project forward. Frank said it was easier for Ohio to pass its version of a tolling bill so easily because the deal, he says, is one-sided. "That may be why we're having second thoughts on our side of the bridge," he said.

"The rush to get us to agree to anything before you iron out any of the terms is the most foolish thing. Why would I agree to them until I know what the toll is going to be and the governance around it?"

-Michael Monks, editor

Photo: Rendering of the Brent Spence Bridge project