Covington Takes Official Stance on Bridge Tolls, Partnerships

Where the City of Covington officials stands on the Brent Spence Bridge project is now official: no tolls this year and no public-private partnerships ever for the $2.5 billion plans to construct a new bridge alongside the structurally obsolete span on Interstate 75 that connects the city to Cincinnati.

A resolution opposing both issues was unanimously approved at Tuesday night's meeting. The resolution did not appear on the agenda issued to the public on Friday and was the last piece of legislation considered by the commission Tuesday. City Clerk Margaret Nyhan was tasked with the reading the unusually long resolution. At its conclusion, City Commissioner Steve Frank offered to translate the resolution in simpler terms. "We ain't in favor of tolls this year and we ain't in favor of public-private partnerships, ever," he said.

Mayor Sherry Carran clarified that the city does support public-private partnerships in various forms, just not when it comes to the construction of the bridge project.

"I feel personally that this is being rushed and not enough input has been gotten by the communities being affected," Carran said.

The resolution reads in part that there are concerns at City Hall with the design and other plans for the bridge project. Alternative I, the design chosen by the planners, diminishes the quality of the current southbound access to Covington and has the potential for a negative impact on existing businesses and future economic development plans, the resolution says. As for tolls, both Kentucky and Ohio are studying the impact of that possible funding mechanism to finance the bridge and Covington leaders agreed Tuesday that tolling just one bridge and not the other spans between Covington (and Newport) and Cincinnati would adversely affect the city's local infrastructure as drivers seek alternative routes to avoid the tolled bridge.

The city commission also wants more of the responsibility for funding the project to fall on the shoulders of the federal government through federal and gas tax revenue and by making the project one of national significance, an idea that would be designated by the United States Congress. Public-private partnerships have been floated as an idea to speed up the construction process by both governors in Kentucky and Ohio as well as local civic leaders, including Chambers of Commerce on both sides of the Ohio River. The city commission is now formally and unanimously opposed to that idea.

The state of Kentucky's General Assembly would have to pass legislation this year to allow public-private partnerships to be involved. State Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington) said last week that he also thinks the bridge project is being rushed and suggested that it be put on hold for two years so that officials can monitor the progress and success/failure of a bridge project in Louisville that will include tolls.

"One aspect that troubles me greatly is the rush to go through with this," Simpson said of the bridge project. "As opposed to going forth in a hasty manner, we should seize the opportunity to wait a year or two to see what happens in Jefferson County." Other local state legislators that appeared with Simpson at a legislative forum, including State Senators Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) and Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) announced their opposition to tolls.

Tuesday's resolution calls for the City of Covington to strongly encourage elected officials at the state and federal level as well as transportation officials from both states to improve the conceptual "maintenance of traffic plan" to minimize the impact on local businesses that lengthy closures on exit and entrance ramps would cause; to fully evaluate the negative impact the use of tolls may have on the citizens and businesses of Covington; that if tolls are used, the revenue from them should not be used outside the cities of Covington and Cincinnati and not shared with private profit-seeking entities; and to ensure that the City of Covington remains an active participant in the review and decision-making for the project.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Brent Spence Bridge project rendering