Sunday, September 21, 2003

Unifying force

New Bridge: Regional project

Replacing the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge will test this region's willingness to cooperate like no other joint project before it. A new bridge alone will cost at least $500 million, and studies have only just begun on bridge options and roadway changes on both sides of the Ohio River.


mouth of the bridge
Collision course
The Enquirer has found the Brent Spence Bridge to be one of the most hazardous in the nation. Ride through the treacherous spots on WCPO video and rate the bridge's 'Fear Factor' in our online survey.

That doesn't mean the bridge project is any less urgent, since 155,000 vehicles a day are shortening the remaining design life of the bridge to less than 15 years - about the time it may take to plan and construct a replacement. The bridge, stripped of breakdown lanes, also has recorded one of the worst crash rates and could become even more hazardous as congestion grows.

Ohio and Kentucky transportation officials already meet regularly, and the Tristate's congressional delegation is seeking federal funds. We need to speak with one voice to Washington to secure the money. One huge advantage: That river crossing is an indispensable link along one of the busiest freight highways in the country. For this region, it is the transportation project, and even the most wildly successful construction phase could cause widespread disruption for commuters and travelers throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. In a region split by three states and a major river, jurisdictions in the past often stuck to their own parochial interests. That won't work in this case. Bridge replacement pretty much boils down to: Cooperate, or else.

That necessity should also be viewed as an opportunity. The joint effort over many years to replace the span with the least disruption and danger could help establish closer cross-river partnerships that thus far have mostly eluded us. Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky's successful collaboration on reconstructing Fort Washington Way offers a model for partnering on the new bridge. Kentucky will take the lead on the bridge, but Ohio is planning major changes to I-75 on its side.

That collaboration could carry over, bridge-like, to other enterprises such as mass transit, regional development and capitalizing on the enormous potential of the river as a tourist attraction year-round, not just for infrequent spectacles such as Riverfest and Tall Stacks.

It's been four years since Michael Gallis' study both warned and challenged us that cities now must compete as metro regions - or they decline. The bridge project is the latest reminder how Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky's interests intersect. We can strengthen this entire region by building on our common interests.

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