Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Brent Spence Bridgedoggle

New Bridge to cost nearly $3 Billion! We could've avoided this...

In 2007, the Brent Spence Bridge, a bridge designed to carry 85,000 motor vehicles daily, was carrying 155,000 vehicles on a daily basis. A replacement or alternative for the Brent Spence has been long over due. Progressive ideas such as light and commuter rail have been consistently been talked down by groups like COAST. The taxpayers, whom COAST claims to defend, are about to be stuck with a $2.6 Billion bill for the construction of a new Brent Spence Bridge. Meanwhile, had we invested in Metro Moves back in 2002, we could've been working to reduce highway congestion for the tri-state's commuters and maybe we wouldn't be replacing the aging bridge so quickly.

Brent Spence stands upon the recently completed bridge named after him upon its completion in 1963. Image credit: The Phony Coney

As if $2.6 Billion didn't sound bad enough, consider that construction isn't slated to start until 2015, assuming there are no more delays in planning and design. By then, construction costs will have risen even higher and the current aged bridge will be carrying more traffic than ever before. By 2013, two years before construction is supposed to start, the Brent Spence Bridge is estimated to be carrying 200,000 vehicles daily, 115,000 more vehicles than it was originally designed for.

My personal favorite of the new bridge designs. The new bridge will surely look nice, but boy will it cost us!

As the cost continues to pile up for a bridge replacement, other cities and states are investing in rail projects. Not only does rail reduce highway congestion, reduce pollution, have a higher capacity for transporting people and goods all while making better use of land and space, but it costs less!

"What? No, Tairy! That can't be!" -- It's true! A single bridge will cost more than the ten most expensive rail transit projects we've seen across the world in this past decade!

- It cost $1.4 Billion to build a 20 mile commuter light rail line in Phoenix that links multiple destinations and carries over 30,000 people per day (far exceeding initial expectations). Meanwhile, here in the Tri-State it will cost us $2.6 Billion to replace just one bridge.


1. San Juan Tren Urbano - This urban rail line in San Juan, Puerto Rico, completed in 2004, cost an estimated $2.6 Billion in 2009 dollars, roughly the same cost as the Brent Spence Bridge replacement (whose costs might rise by 2015). The difference: this rail line connects thousands and provides transportation across the city while our new bridge is just that...a new bridge.

2. Seattle Central Link- Recently completed, this light rail commuter system connects thousands from the suburbs all the way to downtown Seattle. Initial ridership is already above expectations. Cost: $2.4 Billion.

3. New Jersey Hudson - Bergen Light Rail - Connecting thousands between New Jersey and Manhattan. Cost: $2 Billion.

4. Vancouver Canada Line - Carry's over 100,000 people daily between the city's airport and downtown (sounds like a familiar idea Cincinnati once had). Cost: $2 Billion.

5. Phase 3 of the LA Red Line - Completed six months ahead of schedule and under budget, this commuter rail line saved LA from having to spend billions to create highways through and around the Santa Monica Mountains. Cost: $1.3 Billion.

6. San Francisco BART Airport extension - 8.7 mile line connects airport to downtown and surrounding suburbs. Reduces commuter congestion (again an idea we had in Cincinnati that the naysayers shot down). Cost: $1.73 Billion.

7. Phoenix Metro Rail - 20 miles of light rail line for $1.4 Billion with ridership estimates far exceeding expectations. Meanwhile, we're spending $2.6 Billion to replace a bridge strictly for automobiles.

8. Philadelphia Market-Frankford Reconstruction - The complete replacement of this rapid transit line now allows SEPTA to carry 180,000 users daily and thats just one line. Imagine how much that reduces highway congestion. Cost: $1.3 Billion.

9. New Jersey River Line - For the cost of $1.26 Billion, Light Rail diesel vehicles carry roughly 7300 commuters every day across 34 miles. Cincinnati could've had a similar plan to this with Metro Moves, linking the East Side and eliminating a need to expand and rebuild OH-32. Instead, we'll be expanding that highway too and tearing down even more homes and businesses.

10. Washington Branch Ave. Metrorail Extension - The completion of five new stations on this line has lead to economic development and put the Washington Metro at 103 miles of total service. Cost: $1.10 Billion.


One bridge will cost us $2.6 Billion dollars alone!

That's assuming construction is underway by 2015, costs haven't risen, or the project doesn't run over budget. That also doesn't account for the billions taxpayers will spend widening and re-doing I-75 from downtown all the way to I-275!

Why not invest in light rail transit and reduce the congestion and stress put on our highways? Why are we going to spend billions when we could spend far less to make a better investment in our future? More importantly, why is a group who claims to watch out for "additional spending" remaining so quiet on this issue? COAST has no problem trying to stop the City of Cincinnati (a city in which the majority of their members DO NOT live in) from building a $128 Million streetcar line, but remains eerily silent as the state prepares to waste billions upon billions on highway infrastructure?

COAST failed to derail the $128 Million streetcar project, but has done nothing to try and stop or suggest cost saving alternatives for the $2.6 Billion Brent Spence Bridge Replacement.

My father and grandfather taught me that a true conservative realizes a good investment and works against wasteful spending. The folks at COAST are not conservatives, they are merely special interest pawns who do not have the taxpayers best interest at heart.

So while COAST likes to label every project they're against as a "boondoggle." We'll call this Brent Spence replacement plan...



  1. Just a few corrections or statements:

    The rise in cost for the Brent Spence Bridge is due to inaction. Inflationary costs, especially in regards to construction materials such as steel, greatly increased costs from $1 billion in 2005 to $3 billion in 2010. Not acting now and locking in prices is only going to further exaggerate the issue.

    The Brent Spence cost also includes realigning Interstate 75 through Queensgate, freeing up a lot of developable land west of Central Avenue.

    To reconstruct Interstate 75, from Ronald Reagan south to the Brent Spence project -- which does not include the realignment through Queensgate, will be $1 billion.

    But the funding sources are completely different. It is a 90/10 federal/state match, although the state of Kentucky is mostly absorbing the costs of the Brent Spence Bridge structure and approach. So you can't swap money for say, light rail in Ohio, to a project in Kentucky. The realignment through Queensgate is an Ohio-funded project, although they are receiving mostly federal funding for that project.

    In addition, they come from completely different funding sources. The gas tax and the federal Highway Trust Fund pays for these two separate but coordinated projects, funding that can't be diverted to rail.

  2. With a $4 toll, we could pay off this puppy in about 30 years.

  3. Mr. Bronson,

    Excellent points. True, the funding sources are very different. However, we wouldn't be in the present mess we're in if we had acted in the past and invested in other transportation options. If we had a plethora of options like some of the more progressive cities mentioned, we wouldn't be putting as much strain on our highway upkeep and current infrastructure. The tri-state has grown and grown and grown in population, yet we still rely solely on highways. Its getting us nowhere.

    Quim, do you think if there actually was a toll then COAST might care since its an "additional tax," or since its a highway would they just ignore it?

  4. ^Beats me - it's pretty much a game of fizbinwith those guys.

  5. John Bronson,
    Roads and bridges are funded through a declining gas tax and the federal Highway Trust Fund is serverly underfunded to the tune of about 7 billion right now.
    The cavemen want to know how we're going to pay for rail, well how are we going to pay for this bridge?
    Out the A55 is my guess?

  6. Good post. We know there will be cost overruns and delays unless we incentivise the contractors for on-time performance. This was done in my hometown recently for a much much (much) smaller project, but it worked (I think in Minneapolis also).

    I moved back to the Cincinnati area in 2006 from St. Louis. St. Louis is looking to replace the bridge that carries I-70/I-64/I-55 across the Mississippi (I-44 also feeds into it on the STL side). The bridge is very similar to the Brent Spence and is probably from the same era and design philosophy. What started out as a beautiful $2 billion project that was going to solve the needs of the city for a long time got reduced to a $900 million project that would be a joke once it opened. The main reason was that Mo didn't want to pay for it since it is mostly people from Il driving to and from STL using it. Il didn't want to pay for it because it wasn't the only one using it. The feds were kicking in 10% I think.

    St. Louis does have light rail but I don't think there is much use across the river. Once you get into Il there isn't anywhere to go (East St. Lou). On the STL side the light rail isn't bad and is getting better. They've added a branch off the main line recently also.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that all over the country these problems are happening as our infrastructure ages. St. Louis was forward thinking enough to build the rail system and it has it's fair share of detractors but from the airport to downtown it's great (And to my friend Trish's house).

    I really enjoy the poster that was down at the market that showed the possibilities for rail in the area. If only we could get it done.

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