Saturday, July 10, 2004

New leader says Brent Spence won't be ignored

By James Pilcher
Enquirer staff writer

FORT MITCHELL - Northern Kentucky has lost one of its leading advocates for the Brent Spence Bridge in a major shake-up of the Transportation Cabinet's regional offices.

But David Jones, new chief engineer for the cabinet's office here that oversees work for 11 counties, says the bridge will not become an afterthought.

"I am firmly committed to it," said Jones, 48, who took over at the District 6 office for Sam Beverage. "Just because there has been a change in leadership does not mean there is a change in emphasis on this."

Beverage was reassigned to head the cabinet's offices in eastern Kentucky. He was among nine new chief engineers named last week.

Beverage had been centrally involved in all efforts regarding the Brent Spence, and even contradicted the central office in Frankfort publicly last year on whether the project was a state priority.

Cabinet spokesman Mike Goins said that had nothing to do with the reassignment.

"We were trying to get a fresh look at things and some new blood in places," Goins said.

Some positions had been left vacant because of a wave of retirements around when Gov. Ernie Fletcher took office late last year.

Jones acknowledged that the Brent Spence is the largest project facing the district. Officials have been pushing for more than two years to replace the 40-year-old bridge.

He said the ongoing study of the possible replacement would be multi-jurisdictional and include input from the central cabinet office, the Federal Highway Administration, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The district office has been the main agency running a $2.2 million study into possible alternatives to replacing the bridge, a project that could cost as much as $750 million.

That study - which has narrowed the process to four possible alternatives - will be completed by the end of the year.

The state will begin seeking bids from consultants to conduct an environmental study later this summer - a key step in the process, because environmental approval can take five years or longer and cost as much as 5 percent of any project.



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