Biden Infrastructure Plan Could Help Fund Major New Ohio River Crossing in Cincinnati
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Brent Spence Bridge that connects Cincinnati, Ohio, to northern Kentucky is a major trucking route. It was also declared functionally obsolete in the 1980s, with previous administrations failing to fix or replace it. Now, as Tana Weingartner of member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports, its President Biden's turn.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) Take me out with the crowd.
TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: Snowflakes swirl on a chilly opening day in Cincinnati as people mill about outside the ballpark. In the distance, you can see cars slowly inching across the Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the Ohio River.
MARC CETRULO: Can we replace this thing as soon as possible?
WEINGARTNER: Marc Cetrulo lives in Kentucky but crosses to Ohio daily for work.
CETRULO: And every day you come down, it's backed up a mile - two miles - under, once again, normal circumstances. When you cross the thing, it looks like a chunk of it could fall off at any time, which has happened on occasion.
WEINGARTNER: After two semis crashed on the bridge last November, it was closed for six weeks while crews inspected and fixed damage from the ensuing fire. Officials insist the double-decker bridge is structurally sound. But with no safety shoulders and twice the number of vehicles it was built for, a single breakdown or fender bender can snarl traffic for hours. The proposed American Jobs Plan has a category for fixing the 10 most economically significant bridges.
MARK POLICINSKI: If the Brent Spence Bridge is not on that list, then it's a bad list. It's as simple as that.
WEINGARTNER: Mark Policinski heads the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Regional Council of Governments. He says the bridge doesn't just connect Ohio to Kentucky. It's a major north-south trade corridor connecting Michigan to Miami.
POLICINSKI: Over a billion dollars' worth of freight goes over the bridge every day.
WEINGARTNER: In February, the American Transportation Research Institute named it the second-most congested area in the U.S. for truck bottlenecks just behind Fort Lee, N.J. The same day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a national campaign calling for federal action.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We've been talking about fixing this bridge for 20 years. It's time to stop talking and start acting.
WEINGARTNER: The current proposed fix is a $2.6 billion plan to repair the existing Brent Spence and build a new bridge beside it to spread out the traffic load. Local and state leaders have bickered for decades over funding sources. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about the president's plan while speaking this week in his home state of Kentucky.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: Prior to some massive bill like this - and we'll see how this plays out - projects of this magnitude are not fully funded by the federal government. As you all wrote repeatedly when Boehner was speaker and I was majority leader, if we could have figured out how to do this, we would have done it.
WEINGARTNER: He's referring to former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Kentucky and Ohio officials say they're willing to put some money in but need help from the federal government. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber is urging bipartisan consensus on infrastructure, though it isn't keen on changing the tax code to pay for it. Back out by the ballpark, Judy Hearn is walking her dog Cash, and she's excited about the prospect of the bridge project finally just maybe becoming a reality.
JUDY HEARN: Obviously, there's some issues. It seems like there's a lot of accidents. It just seems like the bridge has served its time and a lot of talk. So we just need some money - some U.S. dollars to step in and get this corridor up and going.
WEINGARTNER: A White House official tells NPR if the president's plan is approved, states can submit applications outlining why their projects should be included. Residents here hope the Brent Spence Bridge will make it on that list. For NPR News, I'm Tana Weingartner in Cincinnati.
(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING HEADS SONG, "THE BIG COUNTRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.