THE RIVER CITY NEWS MORE COVINGTON NEWS THAN ANY OTHER SOURCE
by Michael Monks
"We simply cannot wait eleven years for a new bridge," said Julie Janson, President of Duke Energy of Ohio and Kentucky at Monday afternoon's joint meeting of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The two business advocacy groups joined forces to put heat on legislators from both of their states to build a new bridge next to the Brent Spence Bridge now. Incidentally, the heat was on the chamber members present at the Christian Moerlein Lager House at the Banks in Cincinnati where the air conditioning unit was busted, but even that setback did not deter the chambers' presentation of nine steps that could be taken to pick up the pace in building this important piece of interstate infrastructure.
"There is a bit of a lack of understanding of the urgency and the lack of funding options (for a new bridge)," Janson said. Replacing the bridge is expected to cost an estimated $2.5 billion and because of inflation, the cost increases $8 million for each month that construction of the bridge is delayed, the chambers said in an information packet. Increasing the sense of urgency, Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, the luncheon's keynote speaker, said the Commonwealth's General Assembly will stop any funding of the bridge project at the end of 2013 if there is not a financing plan in place.
"Your timing is running out," Abramson said, noting that $118 million was put in the two-year state budget for the bridge project but that $90 million of it was pulled out as part of legislators' concerns over a lack of a financing plan signed off on by the federal government.
"Nothing in this community ever gets done without the support of the business community," said Cincinnati attorney Tom Gabelman while highlighting the significance and importance of public-private partnerships in the pursuit of new developments and infrastructure. Gabelman was a key player in the financial deals that led to the very Banks project at which the luncheon was taking place. The new focus on public-private partnerships is just part of the nine steps presented Monday by the chambers. The steps, in order, are:
- Call to Action Business leaders are urged to take the lead in advocating public and political support
- CEO Outreach/Fundraising A small advisory group will be created consisting of CEOs and business leaders to assist Janson in raising $1 million for communication, public education, and grassroots legislative advocacy
- A coalition to support bridge effort After the CEO outreach a broad-based coalition will be created as a 501(c)(4) organization making it tax exempt but allowing it to lobby for legislation and to participate in political campaigns and elections. It will be dubbed The Coalition to Build Our New Bridge Now, or BN2 (B-N squared)
- Create Communications, public education, and grassroots advocacy campaign A website will be created to help in the efforts to inform the public on the necessity and urgency of a new bridge and will include blog posts, talking points, and a virtual fact book
- Lobby Ohio and Kentucky leaders to move quickly on a joint agreement and to approve necessary legislation The chambers say that work has already begun with each state's transportation departments to push for an early agreement between Kentucky and Ohio on how to proceed.
- Future steps Following the implementation of the first five steps, the next four include an Ohio-Kentucky bi-state agreement; a recommendation on project scope, finance plans, sources of funds, and project delivery method; infrastructure recommendations adopted by both states; and then construction
|Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson|
Gabelman pointed to the 2007 deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis, first as a reminder of the importance of new infrastructure, and also for the speediness in which the bridge was replaced: 339 days. Abramson also shared a story about new bridges, but closer to home. Following decades of debate, a bridge connecting Louisville and southern Indiana will be constructed early next year. The Lieutenant Governor credits the joint efforts of the business community on both sides of their portion of the Ohio River. That Louisville bridge will be funded mostly by tolls, something few people supported but was inevitable if the bridge were ever to come to be. "We had a reality check," Abramson said. "If you wanted a bridge it was going to take tolls. In Louisville, without tolls, there would be no bridge."
In a joint release from the chambers, Covington business owner Brent Cooper (Chairman of the NKY Chamber) weighed in. "To the business community, the geographical boundary created by the Ohio River is irrelevant," Cooper said. "Our company (C-Forward) does business on both sides of the river, as do many other businesses in our region, and construction of a new bridge is a project that will literally bring our two communities together, which is critical for our collective success."
BRENT SPENCE FACTS:
-Opened in November 1963
-Was designed to carry 80,000 vehicles per day but currently carries double that
-It originally had three lanes and two emergency lanes, but the emergency lanes were removed to accommodate the increase in traffic
-The annual value of freight crossing the bridge exceeds $400 billion
-The bridge is described as functionally obsolete by federal transportation inspectors