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Brent Spence Bridge corridor project lands $1.6 billion federal grant

A rendering of the proposed companion span for the Brent Spence Bridge
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet/Ohio Department of Transportation
A rendering of the proposed companion span for the Brent Spence Bridge

The plan to revamp the Brent Spence Bridge corridor — including the construction of a companion bridge for the current 60-year-old span — just got a lot closer to reality with a $1.6 billion federal grant.

Ohio and Kentucky officials announced the grant Thursday. They say it's roughly 98.5% of the money the Ohio Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet asked for.

The money comes from two funding sources. The federal Bridge Investment Program will provide $1.385 billion, and a federal Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant (MEGA) for complex and economically significant projects will provide another $250 million.

The funding makes it possible to complete the long-sought after improvements to the corridor, which carries I-71 and I-75 over the Ohio River. It's a major shipping and commuting route.

Engineers constructed the Brent Spence Bridge in the 1960s to carry about 80,000 cars a day. It currently carries about twice that many a day.

"Ohio and Kentucky have been discussing the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project for almost two decades, and now, we can finally move beyond the talk and get to work," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a news release. "This project will not only ease the traffic nightmare that drivers have suffered through for years, but it will also help ensure that the movement of the supply chain doesn’t stall on this nationally significant corridor."

Kentucky officials are also celebrating the grant.

"I'm thrilled the time has finally come for us to get the companion bridge built," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news release. "Funding and constructing the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project is more than the fulfillment of my administration’s promise — it's a dream fulfilled for the thousands of travelers who pass through the bustling region every day waiting eagerly for traffic relief to come on this nationally significant corridor. It also shows what’s possible when we prioritize people over politics. Once complete, drivers will have a more enjoyable and efficient drive and we’ll have the infrastructure in place to support the booming economy in this part of the state."

The project to expand the bridge's capacity by adding a companion bridge and other improvements has been a long time in the making. Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet say they've refined earlier designs quite a bit.

"Sometime early on in the project, it was talked about (as) a replacement project," KYTC BSBC Project Manager Stacee Hans told Covington residents at a recent public input session. "We are not replacing the Brent Spence Bridge. We're adding an additional structure immediately to the west to add capacity to the corridor."

That new span will be part of an eight-mile project from the Western Hills Viaduct in Cincinnati to just south of Dixie Highway in Covington. The actual secondary bridge will carry drivers on I-71 and I-75, while the current Brent Spence will carry local traffic. Before the bridge, that traffic will travel via what ODOT and KYTC are calling a "collector-distributor" system from 12th Street in Covington to Ezzard Charles Drive in Cincinnati.

"This is just the beginning," Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said today. "The city will continue to partner with ODOT on the design build process. RFPs should be out publicly in February and we should be choosing a partner on the design-build by summer to hit our goal of being shovel-ready by the end of the year."

Not everyone loves the idea. Groups have raised concerns and proposed alternative visions for the corridor. Among the latest comes from a group called Bridge Forward, which claims to have designed a lower-impact alternative solution that frees up 30 acres of land swallowed by I-75.

The Biden administration and U.S. Department of Transportation are expected to release more details about the grant next week.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.