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Op-Ed: Bypass Proposal is a Mirage in Brent Spence Bridge Discussion

Some NKY developers have spent the past year trying to convince people that a different route would eliminate the need for a new Brent Spence Bridge (BSB) corridor.  

While the idea put forth by Henry Fischer is intriguing, I would compare it to a mirage. It may look good at first glance, but it isn’t real. It isn’t anywhere close. 

Not a single transportation official, on either side of the river, has signed on. There have been no environmental studies, no public hearings, no validated projections of how much it will cost, and no realistic ideas put forth on how to pay for it.   

It’s an idea. But, unfortunately, some are referring to it like it is real (Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin recently suggested that the bypass option was worth exploring).

And they are using the wrong conjunction when describing it. It is an “and” to the Brent Spence Bridge, not an “or”. 

Recently, transportation officials from both Ohio and Kentucky articulated why the Fischer idea isn’t a replacement to the Brent Spence Bridge project. But what they didn’t say in their op-ed is that the Fischer idea would face insurmountable political opposition.  

Nobody knows for sure what the end product would actually look like, but one thing is certain; the eminent domain issues would be substantial.  They will be crossing over 1,000 parcels of land. Begin to kick local residents and businesses off their property, and they tend to get angry.  

If it were to actually proceed, there will be groups on both sides of the river battling against it. If you think getting a new BSB corridor has been difficult, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  

But assuming you could overcome the backlash from public hearings, the project would still take a long time complete. 

How can I say that with such certainty? Just look to the Brent Spence Bridge project as a guide.  

The Northern Kentucky Consensus committee, made up of over 70 business and civic leaders from all over the region, identified the Brent Spence project as a top priority over 13 years ago.  

So when you hear someone say something like, “All we have to do is lobby the state for the 1 billion in funding it will take to build the Fischer idea”, keep in mind that it’s never that simple. First, not a single transportation official believes it would only cost $1 billion. The secretaries of the DOTs put the cost at more than $5 billion. Second, we have been trying, for a long time now, to get “only 1 billion” from Frankfort toward the BSB project, without success.  

After 20 years of trying, Louisville only got half that amount, and they agreed to tolls! 

There was dialogue regarding a statewide sales tax to pay for infrastructure projects. Other states have done that as an alternative to tolls. But we found there was zero chance something like that would pass in Frankfort. Leadership from both Republicans and Democrats confirmed that wouldn’t happen.  

There’s been an effort to get Congress to pay for the project by designating our bridge as a project of national significance but with earmarks gone, special legislation has to be drafted, and that has been going nowhere. Congress used to pass long term transportation deals that took care of the entire country. Not anymore. The current plan in the Senate appears to only provide a fraction of the 200 billion the country needs for infrastructure. Without an increase in the gas tax or a move to a miles-driven tax, local communities like ours will have to come up with a local match.  

The point is, acquiring funding for the Fischer idea would be very difficult, so the project would more than likely have to be paid for with tolls, something the backers of this effort have said they are adamantly against.  

So, this idea is a mirage. It is fun to talk about at parties, but it has zero chance of proceeding in the next few years, and very little chance of happening even 10 or even 20 years from now.  

We need to stop being distracted and collectively lobby for options and solutions for the Brent Spence Bridge. We’ve done the studies, had the public meetings, etc., and there is broad support for the project.

Nearly all the businesses I speak with still feel a new BSB is critical and will dramatically improve our economy.  

This past week both the new Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber President and the new NKY Chamber Board Chair gave speeches in which they mentioned a new BSB is a top priority. Those two organizations represent nearly 7,000 businesses in the region.   

Only 2 ½ years ago AAA did a survey in which 90% of those responding, on both sides of the river, were in favor of a new bridge. 60% were strongly in favor!  

On Tuesday morning, the Judges/Executive of Boone and Campbell Counties told the NKY Chamber that all options should be considered regarding the Brent Spence Bridge, including tolls. 

We need to stop being distracted from something that looks good in the distance, and focus on heading where we need to go today.

Brent Cooper is the president of Covington-based C-Forward.