U.S. Transportation Secretary: Ohio River projects show states, feds can bridge cost gaps

Published: Apr. 16, 2014 at 1:43 AM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2014 at 1:43 AM EDT
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A federal investment of $1 billion toward the Ohio River Bridges will generate $87 billion in...
A federal investment of $1 billion toward the Ohio River Bridges will generate $87 billion in economic growth, Foxx said.
Construction on the East End tunnels.
Construction on the East End tunnels.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
Gov. Steve Beshear
Gov. Steve Beshear
Rep. John Yarmuth
Rep. John Yarmuth

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The United States Transportation Secretary is holding up the Ohio River Bridges Project as an example of how states and the federal government can cooperate to pay for construction and he's pushing for President Barack Obama's $302 billion proposal for road improvements.

How much drivers will pay to cross the Ohio River Bridges will depend on how frequently they cross and what they are driving, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised the plan to charge tolls to cross the Kennedy Bridge, the new bridge going up adjacently and the East End's new span and tunnel.

"The work that was done, to get the kind of bi-partisan buy-in across state lines to get major projects-of-scale is the kind of model that we need to get some kind of agreement in Congress to get something done," Foxx told a gathering of elected officials, construction workers and reporters in Waterfront Park Tuesday morning.

The agreement Foxx referenced is President Barak Obama's proposed four-year plan to revitalize the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

"Investments like this may be harder to come by in the future," Foxx said. "That's why we're here. Highways, transit, all of it is a partnership among states, local government and the federal government and if we're not able to do our share at the federal level, things aren't gonna happen at the local level for communities all over America."

"This is an actual physical traffic gridlock that we're going to see throughout the country, if we don't move forward," said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) whose Third Congressional District encompasses both bridges under construction.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear acknowledged toll charges are key the partnership that created the Ohio River Bridges Project.

"A solution like Governor John Kasich of Ohio and I are trying to create with the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky," Beshear said. Beshear vetoed a bill that would have banned charging tolls to finance the project.

"Our transportation cabinet has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal projects shovel-ready," Beshear told the assembled crowd. "But they're heavily dependent upon federal funding."

One such project is the widening of Interstate 65 between Elizabethtown and Bowling Green.  Kentucky has committed $100 million to it, but awaits Congressional approval for federal funding. "So, if Congress doesn't step up, further widening of Highway 65 could be in jeopardy," Beshear said.

"The Highway Trust fund is gonna run out of money in August or September," Foxx said. "And about a third of Kentucky roads already are in mediocre or poor condition."

By contrast, a federal investment of $1 billion toward the Ohio River Bridges will generate $87 billion in economic growth, Foxx said.

"More than 4,000 construction and engineering jobs (to build them.) More than 15,000 jobs over the next 30 years." Foxx said. "That is how transportation equals jobs."

But projects delayed represent progress denied, Foxx added. "Every year we wait, it adds three percent to the bill. Keep that in mind, the next time you hit a pothole."

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