By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - While taking a tour of Northern Kentucky's roads and seeing the Brent Spence Bridge at rush hour, the state's top transportation official Friday saw firsthand why regional leaders are pushing for a replacement of the bridge.
But Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Maxwell "Clay" Bailey also told the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that two new bridges and a new interstate interchange would still be built in Louisville well before any replacement or repair of the Brent Spence.
"We're much further along in that process (in Louisville), and we're going to go ahead and fully fund the design effort," Bailey said in an interview.
"It's just a matter of timing."
The Louisville projects, which have a preliminary cost estimate of $1.9 billion, have already gone through the environmental approval process, a key hurdle. Meanwhile, engineers have only just begun identifying potential options for replacing the Brent Spence.
Cabinet engineers and consultants are more than halfway through a $2.2 million study on the feasibility of different options for replacing the 40-year-old Brent Spence. That study has already recognized five potential alternatives, including building a new bridge and keeping the Brent Spence in place.
The total project could cost $750 million or more, but is listed as one of the state's "mega-projects" on the horizon on the cabinet's most recent six-year plan, along with proposed new interstates in southern and western Kentucky and the Louisville project.
It's the first time the bridge replacement has been placed in the plan, although the Brent Spence is not listed under planned projects.
Meanwhile, funding for all projects - including those in Louisville and the Brent Spence - is in limbo as Congress thrashes out a highway-spending bill. Congress passes a highway spending bill only once every six years, so getting in this year's bill is crucial to avoiding long delays.
Bailey said he was fulfilling a campaign promise from his boss, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, by making the trip.
"This very much helps me inform my sense of the community and its needs, and it seems to me to be very clear that there is a consensus around the Brent Spence," said Bailey, who was appointed by Fletcher in December after a long career with the U.S. Air Force.
"I think I saw every road in this region, thanks to our judge-executives," he joked.
He said that all projects in the state's six-year plan that qualify for federal funding should be started over the next two years. But Bailey added those projects needing 100 percent state funding could be in jeopardy because of the state's budget problems.
The state has recognized $1.3 billion worth of those projects over the next two years, but has only $200 million in funding.
Such local projects include the improvement of the intersection of Ky. 237 and Ky. 18 (Camp Ernst and Burlington Pike) in Boone County, as well as proposed work on Turkeyfoot Road in Crestview Hills and Edgewood.
Bailey also said that he would like to create an aviation commission to promote aviation possibilities in Kentucky.
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