Brent Spence Bridge Project Is a Bipartisan Miracle, Local and State Officials Claim

Biden tells Kentucky "it's about damn time" the Brent Spence Bridge got an upgrade.

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click to enlarge A new infrastructure law is providing $1.6 billion in federal grants for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project. - Photo:
A new infrastructure law is providing $1.6 billion in federal grants for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project.

President Joe Biden, joined by senators and governors from both sides of the political aisle and the Ohio River, came to Kentucky on Jan. 4 to celebrate the bipartisanship that’s bringing a long-awaited upgrade of the Brent Spence Bridge and other critical infrastructure around the country.

“A bridge built over half a century ago, having doubled the volume it was built for,” Biden said. “Folks, it’s about damn time we’re doing it.”

Biden pointed to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, as critical to Congress enacting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will provide $1.2 trillion across the country for not only bridges but also broadband expansion, clean water infrastructure and electric grid updates.

“Leader McConnell — we don’t agree on everything,” Biden said. “In fact, we disagree on a lot of things. But here’s what matters: he’s a man of his word. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank. You can count on it, and he’s willing to find common ground to get things done for this country.”

In addition to McConnell, Biden was joined at a riverside ceremony by former Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who both voted for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also attended.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was among 30 Republican senators who voted against the legislation, and newly elected Republican U.S. Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio were not present at the ceremony.

“We all know these are really partisan times,” McConnell said. “But I always feel no matter who gets elected, once it’s all over, we ought to look for things we can agree on and try to do those, even while we have big differences on other things. And this bridge I think symbolizes the coming together.”

The infrastructure law is providing $1.6 billion in federal grants for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, renovating the existing nearly 60-year-old bridge and building a companion bridge for longer-distance travelers between Ohio and Kentucky.

The bridge corridor project in Kentucky will include improvements to nearby pedestrian and bicycle facilities, along with a new sewer system to reduce flooding. The city of Cincinnati is expected to be able to regain 10 acres for redevelopment as a part of the project.

McConnell and Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear also thanked the GOP-controlled Kentucky General Assembly for its role in making the federal funding for the bridge project possible. The Kentucky state legislature allocated $250 million in the state’s two-year road plan as a part of the application process for the federal funding.

Beshear touted the bridge as not only a promise fulfilled by his administration but as a boost to trade in the region.

“The heavy traffic delays and safety issues are real, everyday concerns,” Beshear said. “This crucial project will address those issues. But the full impact goes to the very health and security of our nation’s economy.”

Groundbreaking on the project is expected in 2023, with more large construction happening in 2024, according to a release from Beshear’s office.

Biden’s visit to Covington was part of administration efforts to highlight projects funded through the new law. On Jan. 4, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Chicago, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was set to visit Connecticut, and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu was scheduled to visit the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Jan. 5.

When the Brent Spence Bridge between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati first opened in 1963, it was named after the longest serving congressman at the time, Democrat Brent Spence of Newport. In the decades since, maintaining the bridge has been one of the longest running infrastructure problems for the region.

Originally just three lanes wide, the bridge was designed to handle about 80,000 cars — including 3,000 to 4,000 trucks — each day when it first opened in the 1960s, according to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. The estimated traffic has multiplied to 160,000 cars and 30,000 trucks daily.

The nearly 60-year-old bridge has received increasingly poor inspection ratings over the decades, and concrete pieces fell from the bridge in 2014 smashing a Ford Fusion while the car’s owner was at a Cincinnati Bengals football game. Inspectors said at the time the bridge was still safe to use.

How to pay for renovating the bridge was a continual conversation in Northern Kentucky until the passage of federal funding, with some Kentucky residents opposed to tolls paying for upgrades.

This story was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.

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