By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ohio and Kentucky highway officials Wednesday unveiled the year's list of major construction projects - a list that looks very similar to last year's plan.
Of the 10 major projects, only three are additions, and the number is down from 12 last year. Two of the new projects are in Northern Kentucky: the replacement of the 10th Street bridge along Memorial Parkway in Newport and the second phase of widening Interstate 75 in Grant County. The other is the placement of a new railroad bridge over Ohio 747 in Springdale just north of Interstate 275.
"Our roads in this region happen to be in pretty good shape, so some of the attention went elsewhere in the state," said Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Ron Mosby.
Still, work on two major corridors continues this summer: the expansion of I-75 from I-275 north into Butler County and the widening of I-275 along the northeastern side of the region.
Other lane closures may be needed on the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge on Interstate 471 for bridge painting, and the 10th Street bridge in Newport will be closed for six months beginning in April as a replacement is built.
And major detours are already in place for ODOT's work on the junction of Columbia Parkway (U.S. 50) and Interstate 71/471.
All 10 projects equal about $119.1 million, although several will continue through at least next year. Both states are also continuing with smaller, more rural projects as well.
But Mosby and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Nancy Wood say that the region could see a lot more construction in several years - especially on I-75 and perhaps the initial steps to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, if Congress funds the project, estimated at $750 million.
Ohio highway officials have already approved $350 million for the nearly $1 billion it could to take to expand and improve I-75 between the Ohio River and I-275, a process that could take 10-15 years. That total figure also includes $250 million for the Ohio side of the Brent Spence.
Kentucky Cabinet engineers also are in the midst of a $2.2 million study on the feasibility of replacing the bridge, a process that should come up with at least three viable options while determining how long the bridge may last.
Mosby used the annual "Beat the Jam" news conference to push for a quick resolution to the federal highway funding impasse and to help Ohio's agenda in that process.
Under the current formula, held in place by a two-month extension of the six-year funding authorization law that expires next month, Ohio receives 88 percent of the money that it puts into the highway trust fund. That fund comes from federal excise taxes.
Ohio drivers also use a lot of the fuel substitute ethanol, which gets a subsidy that does not go into the trust fund. Mosby said that if the state got back 95 percent of its trust fund contributions and the ethanol disparity were erased, the state would get $220 million more each year in federal funds.
The Senate passed its version of the authorization renewal bill that calls for $318 billion over six years. The House wants $375 billion, while the White House is seeking only $256 billion.
Mosby said that money is needed to complete Gov. Bob Taft's $5 billion, 10-year road plan. "This continues to be the governor's top federal priority," he said.
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