Member Login

Carran Votes Against Anti-Toll Resolution, Time for "Change in Dialogue"

UPDATE (5:43 p.m.): It turns out that the resolution adopted by a 3-1 vote by the Covington City Commission did not contain language expressing opposition to tolls. Rather, the resolution outlined concerns city officials have about possible adverse effects on the city that tolls may have. Mayor Sherry Carran contacted The River City News to explain that the discussion that surrounded the resolution was prompted by the way the item was worded on the commission agenda.

"An order/resolution of the Covington City Commission stating their opposition to tolls to fund the Brent Spence Bridge project and public private partnership in financing thereof," the agenda read.

Carran said that the commissioners agreed to the wording of the resolution so that they could all support it and that during the meeting, she saw how the agenda item was worded and voted against the resolution, which was not read aloud during the meeting.

She said she would have voted in support of the resolution but stands by her statements in support of moving forward on the project with tolls.

ORIGINAL POST:

A resolution opposing tolls based on their perceived negative impact on the City of Covington was approved by the city commission on Tuesday by a vote of 3 to 1.

Mayor Sherry Carran surprised her colleagues with a vote against the resolution, arguing that tolls are likely to be involved in the $2.5 billion project. "I know I'm in the minority on this, but I would like us to move forward with more positive discussion about whether we need the bridge," Carran said. "We need it for a number of reasons. Safety. Our police and fire are called to that bridge three to four times a week and every time they are putting their lives on the line."

"I would like there to be a change in dialogue."

Every plan to finance the construction of a new bridge that would be placed to the west of the 45-year old Brent Spence has included tolls.  Toll opponents often argue that the bridge is the responsibility of the federal government but there have been no signs from Washington, DC that a pot of money will be delivered to the region to facilitate the bridge's construction.

The resolution Tuesday night was five typed pages outlining the city's concerns, including possible increased congestion on Covington streets as motorists avoid the tolled bridge. The proposed design also diminishes the quality of the current southbound access to Covington, eliminates access to Lewis Street, and hampers the quality of Goebel Park as the highway creeps closer to the pool.

Carran said she agreed with 99.9% of the resolution but would not support it if it opposed tolls outright. 

"Most of the wording of the resolution, I approve of," Carran said. "It calls attention to how tolling will affect the city. It asks a lot of questions and asks the state to do more research. I asked that (the resolution) would stop short of tolls because at this point, tolls are, based on the research I've done, tolls are going to have to be part of the bridge."

"I think we're premature in saying no to tolls when we haven't agreed to whether we need a bridge tonight."

In recent months, arguments have emerged that the region should wait and see how Louisville's under-construction bridge project works out. Part of that project includes a tolled bridge. 

The Brent Spence Bridge, according to the highway departments in Kentucky and Ohio, has twenty years of life left in its current format.

City Commissioner Steve Frank has assumed the role of the face of the anti-toll crowd in Covington. "If you agree to toll that bridge, you're saying to the rest of the state that the way they work in Frankfort, that's that much more money they have to spend somewhere else because these fools are going to toll themselves," Frank said. Frank is to testify against tolls in Frankfort this week. The General Assembly would have to approve a mechanism allowing a public-private partnership to develop in order for tolls to be used on the bridge. Ohio already has such legislation.

Public-private partnerships have also been a target of Frank's issues with the bridge project. He argued that many of them have gone bankrupt around the country and that the diversion of traffic is what causes the financial difficulties.

"This whole project was never designed with our interests at heart," Frank said.

Frank was joined in support of the resolution by Commissioners Chuck Eilerman and Michelle Williams. Commissioner Mildred Rains was not present.

"I'm always in favor of job creation and prevailing wage," Williams said, acknowledging the economic impact the construction project would have on the region. "When you say negative impact on the city, this has a huge negative impact on Covington. Cincinnati will be great. Newport will be great. In the end, I think Covington should be great. We shouldn't have to sit bac and let them walk all over us. These are things that we need."

"I think this is a good resolution to say, come to the table and talk to us and we are willing to talk."
 
"We're not opposed to any bridge," Eilerman said. "We feel the near term pressures safety-wise and weight-wise could be (addressed) by rerouting trucks. I also think that while the federal government, until there's a restructuring of highway funding nationally, this is a nationally significant project. There could be funds found if there was a will in Washington to do this."
 
Eilerman argued that $3 billion was recently found in federal funds for a lock and dam in western Kentucky. "We are certainly supportive of the bridge but not supportive of having the city squashed like a bug. We need to find a better solution."
 
Carran countered that another part of Kentucky got its $750 million Mountain Parkway greenlit because that region expressed its need and said it was ready to go. "You've heard the commission say tonight that we need a bridge but we've never had that discussion. It's been about tolls," Carran said. "We're not going to get any money until the federal government sees that we're still on board."
 
"Nobody wants tolls but we're letting one part of the dialogue take over the rest of it and we need to be smarter than that."
 
Story & photo by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News