Opponents of any viable alternative to forcing taxpayers to fork over at least $5 billion to fund a new bridge across the Ohio River connecting Northern Kentucky with Cincinnati that would not address the region’s serious – and growing – congestion issues have turned to fear mongering the current state of the Brent Spence Bridge and price gouging the cost of viable alternatives such as the Cincy Eastern Bypass proposal.
Open the Build Our New Bridge Now website and the first thing you see is this glaring headline: “The Brent Spence Bridge is Unsafe.”
It claims “big chunks of span are dropping into the river and onto cars” and refers to “dangerous incidents” and “deteriorating safety” while claiming that “the 52-year-old structure is not safe to drive across.”
But Gov. Matt Bevin in his budget speech to the Kentucky General Assembly rejected the rhetoric of fear while unveiling a proposed 2017-18 spending plan that includes $37.02 million to maintain, repair and paint the bridge, and $2 million to study options to relieve traffic congestion in the I-75 corridor that includes the bridge and access areas to it on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the Ohio River.
(Click here to watch the governor’s comments about the Brent Spence Bridge corridor, which begin at about 1:09:30.)
The transportation portion of the governor’s plan includes an “in-depth look” at the Cincy Eastern Bypass conceived by Northern Kentucky home builder Henry Fischer and which the Bluegrass Institute has wholeheartedly endorsed here.
Bevin offers a balanced approach, claiming there’s a need to both address short-term needs of maintaining the Brent Spence Bridge while also considering “sustaining solutions” for addressing the growing traffic-congestion issues.
“Guess what? No matter what we do there – whether it’s another bridge next to it, whether it’s a roundabout, whatever the case might be – that bridge is going to be here as long as most of us in this room are going to be alive,” he said. “And so, we’re going to paint the darn thing; and we’re going to stop pretending that it’s falling down because it’s not.”
This is the right policy – despite attempts by opponents to use exaggerated claims to cause consternation and a loss of support for the alternative bypass plan, especially when it comes to the project’s cost.
For instance, OKI (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana) Regional Council of Governments CEO Mark Policinski claims the bypass would cost more than $5 billion compared to $2.6 billion price tag for the bridge project.
Here’s why Policinski’s assertion falls off the bridge:
· It’s completely unsubstantiated.
Unlike Fischer, which analyzed other similar road projects to arrive at a defensible cost estimate of $1.1 billion for his Cincy Eastern Bypass, OKI’s $2.6 billion estimate was questionable almost as soon as they released it.
Former state Sen. Joe Meyer, who represents Northern Kentucky United – a coalition opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge – and has filed to run for mayor of Covington, noted: “the true cost of using tolls and public private partnerships,” which is the preferred approach of OKI and its supporters, to build and maintain the bridge is $12 billion.
Much of the information Meyer used in the following chart to reach that estimate comes from information provided by OKI to the federal government:
The fact that OKI apparently hasn’t even considered the long-term financing and maintenance costs involved in operating a major bridge indicates the kind of economic incompetence that should cause taxpayers – and potential toll-payers – to be very wary of such mammoth and hugely costly infrastructure projects.
· It’s completely out of line with the cost of other similar projects – and for no defensible reason.
In contrast, Fischer’s numbers for the Cincy Eastern Bypass reflect 2018 inflation-adjusted costs, including preliminary and final design-meeting regulatory requirements, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation along with the actual construction costs.
His estimates offer much more meaningful detail than any of OKI’s defenses of spending billions to essentially add a single thru lane to I-75 in Greater Cincinnati while failing to alleviate the congestion its own studies indicate will cause costly and dangerous gridlock by 2040 if significant new highway thru-traffic capacity isn’t added to the region.
Fischer also looked at the costs of other recent expressways, including TN-840, a 78-mile highway completed in 2012 that now serves as an outer loop around Nashville and plays a vital role in Music City’s connectivity and economic growth.
The inflation-adjusted $1.2 billion total cost of TN-840 stands at $15 million per mile, thus very closely reflecting Fischer’s cost estimates involving the 68-mile Cincy Eastern Bypass endeavor, which were reviewed and validated by respected engineers like Richard Crist, past president of the Kentucky Highway Contractor’s Association and member of the Kentucky Transportation Hall of Fame who himself has built more than 300 miles of expressway.
The contrast between the lengths that Fischer, Meyer, Crist and other supporters of alternatives to a new bridge and tolling such as the Cincy Eastern Bypass go to in order to validate and boost the credibility of their estimates and OKI’s pull-some-figures-out-of-the-air-and-hope-enough-people-who-drive-the-bridge-everyday-get-frightened-and-throw-all-reason-and-fiscal-sense-out-the-window approach is at least as wide as the river the Brent Spence spans.
“Why,” Fischer asks, “would the 68-mile Cincy Eastern Bypass cost $5 billion or $74 million per mile? That puts the Cincy Eastern Bypass costing five times as much per mile as TN 840.”
· It completely lacks common sense.
Isn’t it a real stretch to believe that a bypass road going through rural areas with largely undeveloped land would carry a cost twice as a high as a new bridge across the Ohio River and the widening of eight miles of interstate in one of the most densely populated and topographically challenging areas in the entire region that includes steep grades, intense interchanges and already-heavy traffic congestion?
Read more in this four-page publication about how Fischer’s Cincy Eastern Bypass proposal would save tax dollars and build on the economic-development strengths of one of Kentucky’s primary economic engines: Northern Kentucky!