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Poll Shows Regional Support for Tolls to Fund Brent Spence Bridge Project

A new poll shows support for the use of tolls to finance the Brent Spence Bridge project, which is estimated to cost around $2.5 billion to add a companion bridge next to the existing span.

The 50-year old bridge is functionally obsolete and carries more than twice the volume of traffic for which it was designed. It is currently undergoing two months of maintenance and repairs and is reduced to two lanes in both directions.

For the past five years a debate has raged in the region over how to pay for the project.

On Tuesday morning, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber announced the results of a new poll that showed that a majority of voters in southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana support the use of tolls to finance the project.

The poll, conducted in late May by Los Angeles-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates which interviewed 800 people who voted in November's election, found that 60 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agree that tolls are a fair way to pay for the project.

The poll involved voters in Hamilton, Butler, Warren, and Clermont counties in Ohio, Kenton, Campbell, and Boone counties in Kentucky, and Dearborn County in Indiana. Support for tolls was highest in Cincinnati, where 62 percent of surveyed voters said that tolls are fair. In the three Kentucky counties and one Indiana county, the poll found that 55 percent responded that tolls are a fair way to pay for the project.

Specifically, 61 percent agreed that a $1 toll would be a fair price for the financing of the Brent Spence Bridge project.

Northern Kentucky governments have routinely expressed opposition to the use of tolls to fund the project, with the City of Covington passing multiple resolutions to that effect, including yet another one this year.

It is often argued that because Northern Kentuckians use the bridge more frequently than Cincinnatians, that tolls would create an unfair burden on the southern side of the Ohio River. Conversely, supporters argue that a toll would serve as a user fee, and would add capacity to a stretched corridor that provides passage for 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

The poll released on Tuesday showed that 55 percent of voters in the Northern Kentucky and Indiana counties agree that tolls are a fair way to fund transportation improvements. 40 percent disagreed.

Other results from the poll:

  • 71 percent of survey respondents believe expanding public transit will strengthen our regional economy and directly create jobs.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed see a benefit to public transportation and feel the current transportation system is outdated.
  • 68 percent of respondents said they agree that our community would benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system.
  • 64 percent of respondents say the regional transportation infrastructure is outdated, unreliable and inefficient.

“Having a strong regional transportation system that connects people to jobs will attract new businesses and highly-skilled workers to our region – generating millions of dollars in economic activity and creating quality, family-sustaining jobs,” said Jill Meyer, President & CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, in a news release. “In conversations with our members and employers throughout the region, they have consistently indicated that transportation and access to a connected network is a key factor in their business decisions about where to locate and when and where to expand,” continued Meyer.

Deteriorating roadway networks and traffic congestion threaten our quality of life, the poll found.

  • 64 percent of those surveyed indicated the deteriorating infrastructure was a very serious or somewhat serious problem in the tri-state area.
  • A large majority of respondents see at least some need for additional transportation funding, with 85 percent saying there is great or some need for more money to properly maintain and repair streets and roads.

“Time stuck in traffic takes away from time connecting with and discovering our region,” said Pete Metz, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Transportation Coalition & Policy Manager, in a news release. “And, as the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area grows, the number of travelers continues to increase. We must invest in projects to better manage traffic flow and provide additional travel options or our existing problems will only get worse,” said Metz.

Support was high for the bridge project, in general.

  • Funding for construction of a new Brent Spence Bridge received significant support from those surveyed, with 85 percent saying starting the project was either extremely, very or somewhat important to them.

“The existing Brent Spence Bridge was designed to support 80,000 - 100,000 vehicles per day; currently it is carrying twice that amount,” said Meyer. “The Chamber remains dedicated to bringing decision makers together to identify responsible funding plans that will lead to the construction of a new Brent Spence Bridge that will move people and goods efficiently within and through our region.”

Expanding and improving our transportation options will help those with lower incomes or without cars get to their jobs, training programs, medical appointments or school, the survey found.

  • An overwhelming majority – 94 percent – of those surveyed said ensuring that bus services are available to seniors and people with disabilities is extremely, very or somewhat important.
  • 84 percent of survey respondents said that expanding bus service to area where new jobs are is extremely, very or somewhat important.

Investing in transportation makes sense – for those who regularly use public transit and even for those who don’t, the poll found.

  • Voters see personal benefits from the bus system, even when they don’t utilize it; they also want to spend less time in their cars.
  • 67 percent of respondents said they benefit from bus services, even if they don’t ride them personally.
  • 74 percent said they have no choice but to drive as much as they do, with more than half of those saying they would like to spend less time in their car.
  • 66 percent said there is great or some need for more money to increase the use of alternatives to driving, such as buses, rail, walking and biking.

“Expanding access to quality public transportation makes sense for all of us – whether or not we regularly use public transit. Increasing access to jobs, healthcare and all that our region has to offer will help to grow our vibrancy and economic prosperity,” said Metz.

Education about the need for more and improved public transportation options, our aging infrastructure, and the role of the public is a critical next step in advancing a regional transportation agenda that improves the quality of life for Greater Cincinnatians.

  • A slim majority of voters in Hamilton County are willing to pay one-half of one percent in new sales taxes to fund improvements to the Metro bus system that would connect more people to jobs, medical centers, schools and other opportunities throughout the region. However, voters throughout the region are split on the idea of increasing taxes to support a new regional transportation system.

“The Chamber has convened business leaders, policy makers, and the public to articulate a shared community voice on transportation that strengthens our region’s competitiveness, facilitates economic development, and places us on the cutting edge of transportation innovation. We are committed to making data-driven decisions that align public and private resources to the region’s shared transportation vision. This research is a solid indicator that our work is moving in the right direction,” said Metz.

The full PDF released by the Chamber detailing the poll:

Survey Shows Support for Tolls on Brent Spence Bridge Project by Anonymous r7P1CFU0 on Scribd

-Staff report

Photo: Traffic on Brent Spence Bridge on June 26 (via traffic cams)