Friday, June 4, 2004

Need for new I-75 span acknowledged

But finding $750M will be hard to do

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - The proposed replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge "is on track to be a great project," a federal transportation official said Thursday.

But Martin T. Whitmer Jr., deputy chief of staff for Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, also reiterated the Bush administration's position of holding the line on transportation spending.

It would cost an estimated $750 million to replace the 40-year-old bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. Local officials have pinned their hopes to the transportation funding bill now up for debate.

"We've got to be able to fund it without raising gas taxes, without borrowing from the general fund and without any kind of bonding for the bill as a whole," said Whitmer, who was in the area to announce an $18 million grant for the runway project at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Congress is working on the next version of the six-year law that authorizes major transportation spending.

The Senate has passed a $318 billion version that does not mention the Brent Spence; the House's version calls for $275 billion, with $7 million specifically for the bridge.

The White House wants to spend $256 billion over six years, an amount many in Congress say is too low.

Whitmer said he was "hopeful" a solution could be worked out this summer.

The process has dragged out for months, with the current extension expiring July 4.

"We are pushing to get it done, but we want something that the president is comfortable with," Whitmer said.

He also said that the Brent Spence project could be considered for "fast tracking," or expediting environmental processes and cutting through red tape.


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