(The Center Square) – The bipartisan infrastructure bill the U.S. House passed late Friday night may allow Kentucky and Ohio to build a new Brent Spence Bridge without the need for tolls, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters Monday afternoon.
Kentucky is in line to receive $4.6 billion in funding over the next five years for transportation projects. In addition, Kentucky and other states will be eligible to apply for grants from a pool of $12.5 billion solely for bridges and another $5 billion in a national infrastructure grant program.
The Brent Spence Bridge, a double-decker that connects Cincinnati to its Northern Kentucky suburbs, is considered functionally obsolete and carries about 160,000 vehicles a day, which is twice what it was designed to hold.
The 58-year-old bridge would not be replaced. Instead, a companion span would be built to the west of it.
Lawmakers and leaders on both sides of the aisle – including former President Trump and President Biden – have considered the Brent Spence project a priority because it serves as an important connector between the South and Midwest. Yet, funding has not been set aside for the project.
Officials expect the project to cost about $2.5 billion.
Beshear told reporters during his Monday afternoon press conference that if the project receives “a substantial award” from the federal government through the infrastructure bill’s grant programs, he believes that would allow the states not to enact tolls to pay for any bonding.
“This gives us a chance to do what many thought was previously impossible,” he said. “We are going to put in that application, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that there are different ways we can take whatever remaining share in Kentucky there is and make this work.”
Other highway projects, including a Western Kentucky bridge to connect Interstate 69 to Indiana, would also qualify for funding from the bill.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, voted for the bill in the Senate three months ago, none of Kentucky’s five Republican lawmakers in the House were among the 13 GOP members who helped pass the bill.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr said he could not support what he called a “big government” bill that Democrats passed just before the weekend.
“With historic inflation numbers and an emerging supply chain crisis, I will continue to oppose the $1.2 trillion tax hike on small businesses and families proposed in the President’s Build Back Broke Act,” he tweeted Monday. “We can’t give up the fight to protect America from bankruptcy.”
Of the $1.2 trillion allocated in the infrastructure bill, $550 billion is considered new funding. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office indicate the bill could add $256 billion to the federal deficit, which is approaching $29 trillion.
Besides highway funding, the infrastructure bill also includes spending for other transportation projects as well as money for access to cleaner drinking water and broadband internet.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth hailed its passage in a tweet Saturday.
“After years and years of failed attempts, we are enacting a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package,” the Louisville Democrat said. “This bipartisan legislation will create millions of jobs—investing in roads, bridges, public transit, clean drinking water, broadband, climate resiliency, and more.”
The bill also had the support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a group that has been adamant about increased funding for Kentucky’s roadways. But President and CEO Ashli Watts said in a statement over the weekend that the bill gives Kentucky much more than that as it will help create new jobs and new investments.
“Investing in infrastructure is a win for America and a win for Kentucky,” she said.
The infrastructure bill was one of three bills making up the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better plan. That included the COVID-19 relief American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March and the Build Back Better bill Democrats hope to pass later this month.
The latter bill includes investments in preschool and health care for the elderly. It also includes funding for clean energy wind and solar infrastructure developments.