Friday, July 23, 2004

Brent Spence project could get more money

Bigger transportation bill in works

By James Pilcher
Enquirer staff writer

A compromise by the White House Thursday over federal highway funding has local advocates of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement hoping it could mean more money for the project here.

A preliminary estimate for replacing the 40-year-old bridge is $750 million, and area business and political leaders have been pushing for money for almost two years.

"This is a very good sign," said Gary Toebben, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the agency that has led the charge to replace the cramped bridge.

While the House version of the bill being debated includes just $4 million for the project in the next six years, local officials are hopeful that more money can be allocated now that the overall highway funding level might grow.

That could help finish extensive environmental and design work that remains to be done, a process that could take five years and cost as much as 5-10 percent of the total. Then money for construction could be allocated the next time the six-year law is renewed.

"My guess is that there would be sufficient funds to keep the momentum going on the Brent Spence Bridge project," said Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the area's main transportation planning agency. "This is a nine-inning game, and we're in the second inning, and we just scored the first run. We're in the bill, and that's what's important."

Wednesday, the White House indicated to the House-Senate conference committee working on the bill that it would accept a $299 billion allocation over six years - a figure that would be $286 billion after certain contracts were voided.

Previously, the Bush administration had indicated that the president would veto any levels above $256 billion.

The conference committee said it would negotiate the levels further and extend the current law until September, when a new bill could emerge.

The House version of the bill called for $275 billion, while the Senate version called for $318 billion.


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