Lawmakers in Frankfort just concluded work on Kentucky's transportation budget and Road Plan for the next two years. Unfortunately, they failed to prioritize sufficient funds to keep the Brent Spence Bridge project moving forward without delay.
Many may rightfully wonder why a bridge carrying an interstate highway across the Ohio River is an issue for Kentucky's General Assembly. Kentucky's Road Plan for the next two years determines which projects will get funding. This transportation budget spends $4.5 billion -- including about $2.4 billion in federal funds -- to pay for the projects detailed in the Road Plan. These dollars are the primary funding source for a project like the Brent Spence Bridge.
I support quick passage of a fiscally responsible, long-term federal highway bill. However, due to the congressional ban on earmarking, State governments will decide what projects are funded by the money provided in the federal bill.
Simply put, the ball is in Frankfort's court. And while replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge is one the Commonwealth's most pressing transportation needs, the General Assembly and the Governor have adopted a strategy of delay.
Absent from the tumultuous debate over the recently passed two-year Road Plan (HB 267) was a modest allocation of additional funds to keep the Brent Spence project on schedule. Governor Beshear's budget request for fiscal years 2012-2013 for the project was $43.78 million, which was $24.22 million short of the $68 million needed by this July.
Frankfort never addressed the shortfall, despite the urging of eighty-five organizations, businesses and government officials from our region.
At this point, the General Assembly is conditioning funding on Kentucky and Ohio's transportation departments producing a detailed financial plan by December 31, 2013. Without the needed funds for the next phase of the bridge project (the detailed design phase), which was scheduled to begin this July, the path forward is unclear. This could come at an unacceptable cost to taxpayers and the economy.
According to a recent report, the bridge project's cost inflates $8 million each month the project is delayed. As such, delaying the project until after a financial plan is completed in December 2013 could add more than $150 million to the total cost. Although this alone is an eye-popping figure, even more money is at stake.
Each year, the Brent Spence Bridge carries $400 billion of freight. A study from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) estimates that this figure will more than double by 2030. However, the National Bridge Inventory classifies the Brent Spence Bridge as "functionally obsolete," which means that the bridge fails to adequately accommodate traffic due to insufficient capacity, sight distance, and safety.
The same TTI study states that congestion attributable to the Brent Spence Bridge costs commuters 3.6 million hours of delay each year for passenger cars, and 240,000 hours for commercial vehicles. Completing the bridge project would reduce both problems by at least eighty percent.
All of these numbers provide plentiful evidence as to why the Brent Spence Bridge project is crucial. Since Frankfort controls the federal and State funds needed to move the bridge project forward, it can and should provide the funding necessary to move the project forward while additional financial planning is conducted.