How Will Tolling on a New Brent Spence Bridge Affect Covington?

The Brent Spence Bridge will turn 50 this year, and a new bridge has been proposed to improve safety and traffic flow on the interstate span that carries Interstate 75 and Interstate 71 traffic between Covington and Cincinnati. Rob Hans, chief district engineer for the Northern Kentucky office of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the Brent Spence Bridge “is not structurally unsafe,” but it does have safety issues. With 172,000 vehicles a day traversing it, the bridge carries more than double its planned traffic capacity, and it is classified as functionally obsolete because of its narrow lanes, lack of emergency shoulders and limited visibility on the lower deck. Hans said tolls are among several funding options under consideration, but he added they would not pay for the entire project (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).

The $4 million “value-for-money” study commissioned by the Ohio and Kentucky transportation departments is expected to be completed by the end of March. The preliminary toll rates are based on the current project price tag, which is $2.47 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration (Brent Spence toll could be as low as $1, 2013). Preliminary results of a study being conducted to map out a finance plan for the bridge replacement show toll rates will not exceed $2 one-way for passenger vehicles.

“Initial models show we’re going to be on the low end of the $1 to $5 range,” said Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. “But it’s really too early to tell right now (Brent Spence toll could be as low as $1, 2013).” Of course they are not going to guarantee tolls will be as low as $1 or $2. The Federal Highway Administration estimates the project cost will increase by $300 million if there is a two-year delay in starting work, and that could drive up toll rates at any time (Brent Spence toll could be as low as $1, 2013).

The governors of Ohio and Kentucky and some in the business community are pushing for tolls to help fund a new Brent Spence Bridge, while the majority of Kentucky state legislators and many residents oppose using tolls.

Last month, a AAA survey showed 52 percent of the region’s members oppose tolls as a way to pay for what’s expected to be about a $2.7 billion project. Those numbers were higher in Northern Kentucky, where 59 percent of respondents opposed putting tolls on the bridge (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).

Chris Penn sees tolls as a disaster financially and logistically for Covington and Cincinnati. Penn, who owns the Cock and Bull Pub in MainStrasse and works as a developer in Cincinnati, crosses the Brent Spence Bridge two to four times daily. Tolls would cost him a significant amount of money and would dump too much traffic on the other bridges, causing gridlock in downtown streets, Penn said.

“I think on both sides of the river it hurts them by putting more traffic, especially in Covington, on very old, narrow streets, some of them in historic districts,” Penn said. “They would not be able to absorb that (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013).”

On February 19th at a Kenton Fiscal Court hearing at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, 15 of the 21 speakers said they oppose using tolls to help pay for a new Brent Spence Bridge. Speakers ranged from the president of the Kentucky Motorcycle Association, who questioned who would have oversight over tolls, to a mother of three in Union, who said a toll of $2 per crossing would hurt “working single parents (such as herself) who are just barely hanging on (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).”

As lawmakers in Frankfort and Columbus consider whether and how to move forward on a plan to pay for the $2.5 billion replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, officials in Northern Kentucky’s largest city want the process slowed down until more is known about how the project will impact the city.

“I feel personally – and I think we all do – that this is being rushed, and that not enough input has been gotten from the communities who are being affected,” said Mayor Sherry Carran, a longtime member of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, a leading advocate for the project (Covington: More time needed to study BSB impact, 2013).

On Tuesday, Jan. 26th, the five-person City Commission unanimously approved a resolution asking Kentucky’s General Assembly not to take action on the Brent Spence Bridge during the legislative session that ends in late March. It also urges planners to take into account the project’s impact upon Covington and explicitly requests that the city “is a full participant in all review, discussions and decision-making (Covington: More time needed to study BSB impact, 2013).”

A study is under way by University of Cincinnati economists that will more fully examine the project’s impact upon Covington; the results are expected in late April. But city officials say it’s likely that the project would hurt the city’s entertainment and business districts, divert additional traffic onto the city’s aging road system, and, if tolls are implemented, also divert traffic away from the city itself. The resolution also takes a stand against the use of a public-private partnership to finance the massive project, and it stops just short of opposing the use of tolls to pay for it (Covington: More time needed to study BSB impact, 2013).

During a press conference an Enquirer reporter asked Ohio Governor John Kasich what he thought about Northern Kentucky state lawmakers remaining steadfast in their opposition to legislation needed to move the bridge project forward.  Besides saying he would look to recruit more Kentucky companies, Kasich also said it was the first time he’s heard the Kentucky legislature is reluctant to pass legislation allowing for the bridge to be built through a public-private partnership.

“Is that what they’re saying?” Kasich said. “Look, I know Gov. Beshear. He knows how to hit the ball over the fence. He’ll figure it out. I’ve not had any concerns about this.”

Kasich added, “I’ll go visit those legislators (Kasich to Kentucky: Ohio to ‘continue’ to take your jobs, 2013).”

Actually I think it would be nicer if Governor Kasich would visit the residents of Northern Kentucky who would incur the most impact from the tolls.  Maybe ask them how they feel about tolls for funding a new Brent Spence Bridge?

Covington city commissioner Steve Frank publicly called out Kasich for recruiting the companies during a press conference in Covington on Dec. 12, when Kasich and Beshear jointly agreed on a study that would consider tolls as a way to pay for the bridge project.

The outspoken Frank asked Kasich if he was going to “mug” Covington again by tolling the bridge. At the time, Kasich did not respond directly to Frank’s question. Instead, Kasich responded by criticizing the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron for its lack of service (Kasich to Kentucky: Ohio to ‘continue’ to take your jobs, 2013).  Good for Steve Frank.  I'm glad someone finally had the gall to stand up to Kasich.

Frank is among a growing number of Northern Kentucky leaders and citizens who oppose tolling the bridge. He called Kasich a “bully” on Wednesday, saying the governor is frustrated because of opposition to fast-tracking the project. Frank helped Covington pass a resolution Tuesday night asking Kentucky’s General Assembly not to take action on the Brent Spence Bridge during the legislative session, which ends in late March.

“I’m glad I got under his skin,” Frank said. “Those comments are a sign of desperation. He’s frustrated because he’s losing on the bridge – at least for this year (Kasich to Kentucky: Ohio to ‘continue’ to take your jobs, 2013).”

The city’s position didn’t come about overnight: officials have long worried about the impact of the project, especially how construction will affect residents and businesses and whether the use of tolls would decimate the city’s business district, which city officials believe is on the brink of a renaissance. Officials say there’s no harm in temporarily putting the brakes on the project while the financing options are more thoroughly vetted.

“This could make or break this town,” said Commissioner Steve Frank. “What we did under (previous) Mayor Chuck Scheper was get this town back on its feet financially. I don’t want to see all the hard work and goodwill that we built up destroyed by a hasty decision on the bridge (Covington: More time needed to study BSB impact, 2013).”

Northern Kentucky has the most to lose by utilizing tolling to fund the Brent Spence Bridge and particularly the City of Covington since I-75/71 runs right through it.  Residents of Covington don’t let these clowns in Columbus and Frankfort wreck your fair city. What can you do? Your voice can make a difference today. Make a two minute call now to the Legislator Message line at: 1-800-372-7181. 

Northern Kentucky Representatives




Sen. John Schickel

Sen. Katie Stine

Sen. Damon Thayer

Rep. Sal Santoro

Rep Dennis Keene

Sen. Chris McDaniel

Rep. Addia Wuchner

Rep. Joe Fischer

Rep. Thomas Kerr


Rep. Thomas McKee


Rep. Arnold Simpson


Rep. Adam Koenig

Tell the operator in Frankfort to give your message to all elected officials. 

Kentucky Governor

Steve Beshear

(502) 564 2611

Please, you can make your point known in a 2 minute phone call. 

Federal Elected Officials

US Senator Rand Paul

DC: (202)224-4343

N KY: (859) 426-0165

US Senator Mitch McConnell

DC: (202) 224-2541

N KY: (859) 578-0188

Congressman Thomas Massie

DC: (202) 225-3465

N KY: (859) 426-0080