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New Bridge Advocates: "Ditch the scare tactics, learn the truth"

The Build Our New Bridge Now coalition, supporters of public-private partnerships to finance the Brent Spence Bridge project, issued a response Tuesday to what it called "scare tactics" in the debate over tolls and other issues facing the bridge's construction. On Monday, a petition effort was launched by Covington activists that aims to end the agreement between the governors of Ohio and Kentucky to construct a bridge in a manner that would likely involve tolls.

Here is the text of the coalition's response:

As the Coalition has begun to gain momentum, we have encountered some groups that wish to diminish our traction. With a project of this magnitude, it should be expected to hear plenty of misinformation and scare tactics to avoid progress. This Coalition was formed to encourage action among our region and elected officials. Our goal is to build a new bridge safer, quicker and with the most benefit to our community. We encourage open discussions with community members and stakeholders and we do not believe in spreading false facts or using scare tactics to advance our cause.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about every group interested in the bridge project.

Here are the facts:

MYTH: We don’t need a new bridge.
FACT: The current bridge is labeled “functionally obsolete” by the Federal Highway Administration, carries more than double the traffic and freight it was designed for, has no emergency lanes, insufficient view corridors and lane widths that are smaller than federal standards. The Brent Spence has the 7th highest crash rates of bridges in the United States. Semis running side-by-side on the bridge have less than a yard of space between them. It takes emergency responders an average of 50-60 minutes to get an incident on the bridge. Passenger and commercial vehicles spent $83 million in delay costs related to the bridge in 2012.

MYTH: We can wait for a new bridge.
FACT: Tell that to the three mothers who have lost sons in the last few years because of the incompetency of the Brent Spence Bridge. Each day we wait, we risk another life. Each month we wait, we add $8 million to the cost of the project. Each year that we wait, commuters lose $748 million in time and fuel costs.

The Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 requiring that all further funding for study or construction of the new bridge be terminated if no financial plan is submitted by the end of 2013.

MYTH: The federal government should pay for the whole project.
FACT: The federal government has never, and never will, pay for 100 percent of any infrastructure or transportation project. The traditional model for funding of infrastructure projects of this size and scope was for the federal government to pay up to 80 percent of the total cost and for state/local communities to come up with the remaining 20 percent from a variety of sources. The traditional model is no longer a feasible option because of a combination of economic factors at the federal level, including the decline in federal gas tax revenues that previously funded the federal government’s allocation to the states.

Gas tax revenues are declining for a variety of reasons. The federal gas tax, which is 18 cents per gallon, hasn’t been raised since 1993. Due to inflation over the past two decades, that 18 cent tax is really worth only 12 cents. In addition, vehicles are much more efficient, and use less fuel. Previously, projects were also eligible for federal funding earmarks that could fund major infrastructure projects. Earmarks no longer exist in the Federal budget.

Currently, each state receives a percentage of the federal gas tax revenue and each state allocates funds to different projects throughout the state. In 2010, Ohio received about 4.6 percent of the nation’s fuel tax revenue, and Kentucky received about 1.7 percent. If we were to wait to build the bridge using these funds alone, construction is estimated to not begin until 2030 at the earliest, with completion around 2040.

MYTH: If tolls are implemented, they will be on the bridge forever.
FACT: If tolls are the solution to building a safer, more functional bridge for our region, they would be in place until the bridge is paid for, and there is a sufficient amount of funds saved for future maintenance and operation of the bridge.

In Kentucky, nearly every major parkway, like the Bluegrass Parkway, was tolled and found the tolls responsibly removed once the necessary funds were raised.

MYTH: Politicians plan to use toll revenue for projects elsewhere, or siphon toll revenues into a slush fund.
FACT: Under existing State and Federal laws, toll revenues may not be transferred from one project to another or for general economic development purposes. Toll revenues must be allocated to the Project.

MYTH: 66 percent of the money for the project will be used to improve Ohio infrastructure, while 65 percent of the traffic using the bridge daily is from Northern Kentucky.
FACT: According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, 53 percent of the project length (38 lanes mile) is in Kentucky, and 47 percent of the project length (34 lane miles) is in Ohio. It is anticipated that the cost for the Project will be divided between Ohio and Kentucky based on each state’s percentage share of the improvement costs.

MYTH: There is no way to enforce tolls on out-of-state drivers.
FACT: Cutting edge technology has the capability of capturing license plate data so that the owner receives a bill for the tolls. Electronic imaging is used successfully throughout the United States and internationally to enforce user fees.

MYTH:Tolls are going to be $X amount… you will pay an additional $X yearly with tolls.  
FACT: It hasn’t been decided that tolls will be the way to fund the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project. Therefore, no toll value has been decided. Anyone that tells you they know the toll amount is providing false information.

MYTH: Covington is isolated and local traffic and development will suffer under this plan.
FACT: All current access points to Covington will remain with this project. There will be additional connections added to Covington with an express route over the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and a new exit at Pike Street.

MYTH: The Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition is a pro-toll organization.
FACT: We are not the “Tolls Coalition.” The Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition exists to build a new Brent Spence Bridge corridor quicker, cheaper and with the most benefit to the communities it serves. The Coalition believes that the federal and state governments should make a meaningful contribution towards the funding and financing of the project.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Ohio Department of Transportation are set to release preliminary findings in the coming weeks from their joint Value for Money Study. This study was commissioned to determine the most efficient and effective means to get this bridge corridor built now…or at least in this decade.

Until the final results from this study are released in April, the Coalition believes all funding, financing and construction methods should remain on the table. We believe it is unwise to argue against, pass resolutions against, or jump to conclusions about a financial plan that has not yet been presented. Once the plan is released in April, the departments of transportation can make educated recommendations to our legislative bodies and our communities. We, as a coalition, will review this plan and we can decide if the plan advances our mission – to get the project built faster, cheaper and with the most community benefit.

MYTH: Public-private partnerships equal tolls.  
FACT: A public-private partnership is a legal contract between a government or public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector company to plan, finance, construct and/or operate a road, bridge or facility. A P3 agreement involves a combination of private sector design, construction, financing, maintenance and/or delivery of services for a defined time period, while the public agency contributes land and capital, allocates revenue, monitors the P3 contract and distributes payment to the private sector.

Depending on the terms agreed to by the private entity and the public sector, tolls may or may not be a component of a P3 agreement. The private entity needs to receive a return on its investment and this can be repaid in a variety of ways, i.e. availability payments, user fees, naming rights, etc.

P3 agreements can be employed to build arenas, stadiums, convention centers, schools, universities, public water utilities, highways, roadways and bridge – essentially any public facility. It is up to the public agency and private entity to agree on how payment will be received for the services provided.

MYTH: If I speak up, then I am for tolls. 
FACT: Not necessarily. The Coalition is asking elected leaders to act now, find solutions and quit kicking the can down the road. To support this, you can know the facts and talk positively about the project and correct misinformation when you hear or see it. Tell your legislator you support building a new bridge now, not in 2040.

It’s much easier to stop progress than make it, but if we want to continue our vitality as a region, we must be ready to face and solve our greatest challenges. We must look at all the facts, do the necessary research, and plot the necessary points to get to our end goal with the most benefit. In order to do this, we need every CEO, every worker, every constituent, to stand with us and say that we need a new bridge NOW. This bridge has to be a priority, for our businesses, for our families, and the only way to do that is to demand that our elected leaders find solutions now.

Read more: Build Our New Bridge Now