Washington, D.C. hears Brent Spence Bridge concerns

By Scott Wartman swartman@nky.com


“In Northern Kentucky, the potential for disaster is growing every year,” Cooper said. “It will cost Kentucky jobs if a long term solution isn’t in place.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Funds for the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge would lead to jobs, Northern Kentucky leaders told the staff at the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Members of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce flew into Washington, D.C. Tuesday for its annual lobbying efforts with a list of 10 projects in Northern Kentucky they want funded, including Riverfront Commons, six additional buses for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, the development of a Gateway Community and Technical College campus in Covington, the Ky. 8/Interstate 471 interchange in Newport and the new Ky. 536 connector from the AA Highway to U.S. 27. The top priority, however, is the Chamber’s funding request of $837 million for the Brent Spence Bridge. Leaders in Washington seemed aware of the Brent Spence Bridge’s importance.

“Brent Spence is not a Northern Kentucky-Ohio issue, it is a national issue, because the food that ends up on your plate in New York came through that bridge,” said Alex Herrgott, director of transportation & infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. Chamber advocates raising the federal gas tax eight or nine cents to fund infrastructure projects, such as the $2.4 billion bridge replacement. Each additional cent in the gas tax would bring in an additional $1.6 billion in revenue, he said. The federal government last raised the gas tax in 1993 to its current rate of 18.4 cents per gallon for regular and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel. “The purchasing power of gas tax has lost 80 percent due to inflation,” Herrgott. “But in this toxic environment, we really can’t talk about gas tax increases, even though we like to call it a user fee, because you have a direct user getting a direct benefit for that charge.” That, however, could adversely impact the oil industry, said Steve Harper, president of Harper Oil Products in Florence. “It is hard to support something that taxes the main product you sell,” Harper said. “I realize they need more funds for the roads, but I do have mixed feelings about it. Our prices are going up and down all the time. Lately it’s just been up. It’s just another increase.”

Northern Kentucky leaders laid the case out for the bridge before members of Congress and their staff. The amount of gas and time companies expend from trucks idling in traffic costs money, including $400,000 a year for a logistics and distribution company in Boone County, said Brent Cooper, chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s board and owner of information technology firm C-Forward in Covington.

Cooper told the legislative director for U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the House appropriations committee, R-Ky., that delay on replacing the bridge might not only cost jobs, but lives. “In Northern Kentucky, the potential for disaster is growing every year,” Cooper said. “It will cost Kentucky jobs if a long term solution isn’t in place.  We were talking about the bridge that collapsed. We don’t want that to happen to us.” Megan O’Donnell, legislative director for Rogers, said the leadership of the U.S. is aware of the issue. “We’ve raised that issue to the highest possible echelon in a world where earmarks don’t exist,” O’Donnell said. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told the Northern Kentucky delegation that he wants to take money from the U.S. Department of Energy loans to solar and other alternative energy companies and put it toward a bridge fund, where civil engineers would rank the projects based on need. He said the U.S. Department of Energy has $34 million in loans outstanding. “I think this is the way we have to start thinking about how we build bridges or replace bridges in our country, because there’s not new new money,” Paul said. “There’s been all talk about Solyndra, BrightSource, First Solar, we’ve got all this solar companies that are friends of president, hundreds of millions dollars. That money would be better spent on something Republicans and Democrats can all agree to, which is infrastructure needs for the country.”