Biden, McConnell Tout Infrastructure Legislation During Brent Spence Bridge Visit

The federal government will pay $1.6 billion for a new bridge crossing the Ohio River between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, and the president visited the site January 4 to highlight the project as an example of bipartisan support for infrastructure projects.

President Joe Biden noted that the Brent Spence Bridge was built in 1963 and designed to carry 80,000 vehicles a day but now carries twice that many. The bridge carries interstates 71 and 75.

Funding received from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will allow the construction of a companion bridge that will carry the interstates, while the existing bridge will serve local traffic.

Groundbreaking on the project is anticipated for late 2023, with substantial completion slated for 2029, according to a news release from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s office.

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Local officials have previously touted the bridge’s importance to moving freight, not only along the interstates but also for intermodal transport in the region.

Mark Policinski, CEO of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, previously said the bridge was the linchpin of transportation in the area. Regionally, of the 2 million people who live in the Cincinnati area, 60 percent live within five miles of the bridge, he said. Of the 1 million jobs in the region, 70 percent are within five miles of the bridge.

The importance of that transportation link was tested after a fiery crash on the bridge, directly over the navigation channel, in November 2020. The wreck shut down river traffic for two days and halted interstate traffic for six weeks.

Biden was joined by the governors of both Kentucky and Ohio, transportation officials and senators representing both states as he touted the project as a win for bipartisanship and the economy as a whole.

There are bright spots across the country,” Biden said. “The Brent Spence Bridge is one of them.

Biden’s visit came as other top administration officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, all visited sites of major infrastructure projects January 4-5 to kick off the new year by highlighting the president’s economic plan and stressing successes bringing Republicans, Independents and Democrats together to pass the IIJA.

“To have the best economy in the world—the reason I pushed this bill to begin with—you have to have the best infrastructure in the world,” Biden said in his remarks, which came from a mobile stage and podium set up in a location in Hebron, Ky., where traffic passing along the bridge was visible in the background, along with the Cincinnati skyline.

Biden also mentioned other projects important to the region that were included in the IIJA, including $465 million for the Kentucky Lock Addition Project on the Tennessee River in western Kentucky.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at the event about the difficulty of passing the infrastructure law and finding a way to fund the bridge, calling it a legislative miracle.

“This is a day I think many people in northern Kentucky thought might never happen,” he said.

Former Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who left office earlier in the week, called the announcement of funding for the bridge a day 30 years in the making and noted that the adjacent intersection of I-71 and I-75 is estimated as the second worst traffic bottleneck in the country. Meanwhile, 3 percent of the nation’s commerce passes over the bridge, he said.

That’s why it was fitting that the bridge project receive the biggest federal grant for a project anywhere in the country, Portman said.

“Today shows what we can achieve for the region and the country when we work together,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said.

The project plans call for the construction of the new bridge just to the west of the existing bridge. They also call for improvements to the current bridge and the roadway network tying into each river crossing and a new storm sewer system on the Kentucky side to reduce flooding and improve local roads. The first step of the construction process will begin later this month, when a request for proposals is released to the contractor community.