Simpson Amendment Ripped in Editorial as $37 Million is Removed from Bridge Plans
State Representative Arnold Simpson, a Democrat from Covington, is the target of a scathing editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday after the long-serving legislator was successful in attaching amendments to House Bill 407 that would prevent the use of tolls as a financing mechanism on the Brent Spence Bridge project.
HB 407 passed the Kentucky House of Representatives on Monday by an overwhelming margin, 82-7, and moves to create the option of public-private partnerships in which private firms can take over public projects.
Prior to the vote, a state highway plan had a proposed $60 million allocated toward the $2.6 billion bridge project that was characterized as allowing the project to move forward.
Following the vote, a House committee stripped $37 million of that fund. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Amanda Van Benschoten reports:
Together, those two actions have supporters of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement worried.
"If that $40 million stays out (of the road plan), that's going to be a very, very serious setback," said (former US Represeantitive Geoff) Davis, who spent more than seven years in Congress trying to advance the project.
The problem is, Northern Kentucky lawmakers and many of their constituents are adamantly opposed to imposing tolls to help pay for construction of the $2.6 billion megaproject, which includes a new span over the Ohio River and the reconfiguration of a 7.6-mile stretch of Interstate 75.
And that wasn't the only ink Simpson's move got in the Enquirer. The Cincinnati paper's editorial board targeted the amendments on Wednesday:
Simpson's parochial legislation would affect a critical link in one of the busiest interstate highways in the United States. It's not just a Northern Kentucky issue; it's an Ohio issue and a national issue. The bridge carries 160,000 vehicles a day, including 30,000 trucks. It's a scene of traffic gridlock nearly every day, and it's only going to get worse. It's estimated bridge traffic will grow to nearly 250,000 vehicles daily by 2040. Today's traffic jams will look tame in comparison.
Simpson's move would tie the hands of Kentucky legislators by taking a viable financing mechanism off the table. Why limit the options for this part of Kentucky while the rest of the state moves forward with new ways to pay for needed public projects?
Simpson's amendment is a potential disaster for the entire region. Already, a Kentucky House budget committee has moved to strip $37 million in state funding from the Brent Spence project and redirect it elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Simpson told cn|2 on Tuesday that the removal of the $37 million was not unexpected:
“What we did today in committee and on the House floor was only the beginning of the budgetary process,” said Simpson, referring to the two- and six-year road plans that came out Tuesday. “The important measure is going to be the fruits of the conference committee. That’s going to really tell the tale of the funding support of the Brent Spence project.”
Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce interim President Brent Cooper expressed his disappointment to WXIX:
Studies show 172,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. Furthermore, studies have shown that more than 3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product crosses the bridge each year tallying $417 billion. It's predicted that by 2030, $830 billion in gross domestic product will cross the bridge.
"We've been working on this for 13 years. We have all these studies. We've done all this work to get to this point, and for this to get delayed again is unimaginable," Cooper told FOX19.
Cooper had previously characterized the amendments as "the Simpson Shutdown", a remark for which he later apologized to Simpson. At Tuesday night's Covington City Commission meeting, Rep. Simpson's efforts were applauded by two city commissioners.
"This has been characterized by some people as a shutdown but as I've indicated, it's a thoughtful pause," said Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. He noted concerns about streets in the city's Lewisburg neighborhood, access to Devou Park, a new interstate exit on both sides of Ninth Street, and other infrastructure details as concerns that he does not believe have been fully addressed by the bridge planners.
"There are a number of details in need of more consideration. Neither (Simpson) nor anyone else wants to shut down the project. We don't opposed (public-private partnerships) in general and we don't oppose the bridge project," Eilerman said.
Commissioner Steve Frank agreed. "I think it's a good idea to take a year or two to see if we can't get this thing worked out to more of our satisfaction," Frank said.