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Portman: Infrastructure Bill 'Paves The Way' To Address Brent Spence Bridge

rob portman
J. Scott Applewhite

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is set to be voted on this week. One of the main talking points in the Tri-State area regarding infrastructure is the Brent Spence Bridge. Republican Sen. Rob Portman says the bill will provide $60 billion, including $45 billion in new grant funding, for state and local governments to fund projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. If the bill passes, Portman says states would have to apply for these grants.

"The bridge money is an unprecedented amount of money," said Portman, who served as the lead Republican negotiator on the bill . "Obviously, we've never spent this kind of money on bridges before and much of the money is meant to go towards bridges just like ours."

Ohio has nearly 45,000 bridges. The American Society of Civil Engineers says 58% are rated in good condition, 36% are in satisfactory or fair condition and 6% are in poor condition. There are 2,012 (4.5%) bridges that require a reduced load capacity and 200 that are closed altogether.

Portman says Ohio hasn't been doing well with infrastructure, especially considering the ASCE gave the state a C- rating.

"Congestion costs Ohio motorists an estimated $4.7 billion each year in lost time and wasted fuel," Portman said. "It also adds to the environmental problem because you have more CO2 emissions when you're sitting in a traffic jam."

During President Biden'srecenttown hall in Cincinnati, he said the bill needs to be passed immediately to "fix that damn bridge between here and Kentucky." The bridge is the third most heavily traveled bridge in the country and has been on the federal government's list of "functionally obsolete" infrastructure since the mid-1990s.

Included in the infrastructure bill will be the Bridge Investment Act, which was introduced back in 2019 by Ohio's Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown. This would provide $12.5 billion in funds to repair and replace nationally and regionally significant bridges. It would also provide Ohio $9.8 billion of formula funding for infrastructure upgrades. The Brent Spence Bridge would be immediately eligible for grant assistance.

A proposed $2.6 billion plan would repair the existing Brent Spence and build a new bridge beside it to spread out the traffic load. More than 163,000 vehicles a day travel across the bridge, according to a 2019 study by the Kentucky Transportation Department. That's more than twice what it was designed for.

The Brent Spence Bridge is not alone in this. The 2020 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure found there are at least 46,154 bridges in the U.S. that are ‘structurally deficient’ and 231,000 still need repair and preservation work.

Addressing 'Digital Divide'

Roughly $65 billion in funds will go toward broadband access and another $42.5 billion will go toward high-speed networks in underserved communities nationwide.

Portman says two-thirds of residents in 15 Ohio counties are considered "unserved" and 23 are considered underserved.

"This is a big deal for telelearning, for telehealth, for teleworking, and critical to have a digital infrastructure out there that enables us to close the gap that we feel in many parts of Ohio," Portman said.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.