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Ohio River's Brent Spence Bridge Serves As Symbol Of U.S. Infrastructure Woes

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When Donald Trump was campaigning, he pledged to do something about a specific piece of infrastructure over the Ohio River, the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Replacing the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati - you like that? - which is critical to the region.

SIEGEL: Ann Thompson of member station WVXU in Cincinnati says some drivers try to avoid the bridge altogether.

ANN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I'm driving across the Brent Spence Bridge. We're all going really slowly, lots of cars and trucks merging into just four lanes. And what's really frustrating is the lanes are narrow, and if you break down or have an accident, there's no place to pull over.

AMANDA YOUNG: I don't drive the bridge. It's too dangerous.

THOMPSON: Amanda Young, speaking just a few blocks from the double-decker bridge connecting Cincinnati to Covington, Ky., says she's scared of it.

YOUNG: I've seen too many accidents. I've worked in this area too long.

THOMPSON: Young has company. While transportation officials say the Brent Spence is structurally sound, they call it functionally obsolete, meaning it was designed to carry half the vehicles using it each day. Driver Gary Snodgrass says if there were shoulders on the bridge, maybe he wouldn't have totaled his pickup truck.

GARY SNODGRASS: It was on a Saturday morning. I was coming home from work, and there was a broken-down car on the bridge. There's no place for that car to go, and there was no place for me to go.

THOMPSON: For more than a decade now, local politicians have been trying to come up with a plan to pay for a new bridge estimated to now cost 2.6 billion. The last Kentucky governor worked out an agreement with Ohio's governor to share the cost and use tolls. But now current Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, opposes tolls and met with President Trump in December to discuss federal funding.

The most recent plan would repair the bridge and build a new one to the west with each carrying one-way traffic. The Trump administration has labeled replacing the bridge its No. 2 infrastructure priority. It couldn't come soon enough for Joe Dryer, who has a flooring business and crosses it two to three times a day.

JOE DRYER: Cars will be broke down, and we'll be on it for a half hour to an hour at a time. And the whole bridge just shakes.

THOMPSON: Trey Grayson, who heads the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, calls the bridge an embarrassment.

TREY GRAYSON: It doesn't do you any good to be one day's drive from half of America if you're stuck in a traffic jam.

THOMPSON: For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.