Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

January 16, 2013

Advocates pitch partnership to pay for new bridge

Erlanger — A coalition is trying to convince leaders in northern Kentucky that private financing would be the best way to speed up the time frame for a new bridge that would span the Ohio River and connect the area to Cincinnati.

The Kentucky Enquirer reports that Johnna Reeder, who is chairwoman of the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition, was joined by officials with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet on Tuesday as they recommended the option to area leaders at a meeting in Erlanger. They said a public-private partnership is the only way to get the $2.4 billion new bridge for the Interstate 75-71 corridor built in a timely fashion.

With a partnership, proponents have said a new bridge could be built by 2018.

“The realistic piece is that there are no more earmarks at the federal government,” Reeder said. “I wish we could go get a federal earmark, but we can’t.”

Opponents have argued against the proposal, saying it would mean tolls on the bridge.

Transportation official Robert Hans says private financing doesn’t necessarily mean tolls. He said other states have used “availability payments” similar to bonds, which means a private company puts up the money initially, but gets it back with interest.

“Without giving us all the tools in the toolbox, it’s going to constrain the possibility of moving the project forward,” Hans said. “It’s the bottom line. We have to look at all options. Tolls may be the best option. Availability payments may be the best option.”

Many fear tolls would hurt Northern Kentucky residents and businesses. Builder Matt Toebben said he feared tolls would cost Northern Kentucky thousands of residents and billions of dollars.

“I don’t want to see Northern Kentucky killed off with the stroke of a pen or one mistake,” Toebben said. “I want to see the bridge built. I hope we can build it as quick as possible, but please fight the tolls.

“Louisville is the opposite way. People come into Louisville. It’s great for Louisville and the state of Kentucky. But in Northern Kentucky, this toll bridge will hurt us forever. It’s not one year. It’s forever.”

Reeder, however, said waiting on a new bridge would end up costing the area more because people would begin bypassing the area to avoid the gridlock.

“We can’t look up one day and go, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we need to fix this,’ because even with the most innovative financing, it’s going to take three-plus years to build a new bridge,” Reeder said.

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