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Brent Spence Bridge study to look at effect of tolls on low-income drivers, the environment

Michael Keating

Taxpayers will pick up the tab for an $8 million study of the impact of a reconstructed Brent Spence bridge on traffic, noise and the effect tolls will have on minorities and low-income persons.

The Ohio Controlling Board released the money Monday at the request of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)

ODOT spokesman Brian Cunningham said the state of Ohio is in the process of working out a “memorandum of understanding” with the state of Kentucky. Once that is finished, Cunningham said, Kentucky will reimburse Ohio for half of the $8 million.

Officials in both Ohio and Kentucky have said that tolls are the only way to pay for the estimated $2.6 billion it will cost to reconstruct the structurally obsolete Brent Spence Bridge.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has already signed into law a bill allowing tolls; and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has vetoed legislation banning tolls.

Cunningham said one of the things the study will be looking at is how the tolls might be adjusted to lessen the impact low-income or minority groups, but couldn’t say how that could be done. It will also study the possibility of variable pricing based on whether or not drivers are local commuters or long-distance travelers.

“The goal is to keep the toll as low as possible and still be able to pay for the project,’’ Cunningham said.

The study will also look at noise levels during construction and environmental impact.

A Columbus consulting group, HNTB Ohio, will conduct the study. It will include public meetings with citizens in both Cincinnati and Covington, according to ODOT’s request to the controlling board. The Ohio Controlling Board’s function is to formally release money for state spending.

Kentucky owns the bridge. Northern Kentucky lawmakers, who oppose tolls, have refused to sign off on legislation to allow the bridge’s reconstruction to go forward.