LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Cincinnati, Ohio, to northern Kentucky, is a major trucking route. It was also declared inoperable in the 1980s due to previous administrations unable to repair or replace it. Now, as Tana Weingartner reports from the WVXU member station in Cincinnati, it is President Biden’s turn.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: (singing) Take me out with the crowd.
TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: Snowflakes whirl around on a chilly opening day in Cincinnati as people frolic outside the ballpark. In the distance, cars can be seen slowly driving over the Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the Ohio River.
MARC CETRULO: Can we replace this thing ASAP?
WEINGARTNER: Marc Cetrulo lives in Kentucky, but drives to work in Ohio every day.
CETRULO: And every day you come down there is a mile – two miles – covered under normal circumstances. When you cross that thing it looks like part of it could fall off anytime, which has happened occasionally.
WEINGARTNER: After two semis crashed on the bridge last November, it was closed for six weeks while the crews inspected and repaired the damage caused by the fire that followed. Officials insist that the double decker bridge is structurally sound. But with no safety shoulders and twice as many vehicles it was built for, a single breakdown or fender bend can confuse traffic for hours. The proposed American employment plan includes a category for repairing the 10 most economically important bridges.
MARK POLICINSKI: If Brent Spence Bridge isn’t on that list, it’s a bad list. As simple as that.
WEINGARTNER: Mark Policinski heads the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Regional Council. He says the bridge doesn’t just connect Ohio to Kentucky. It is an important north-south trade corridor that connects Michigan with Miami.
POLICINSKI: Over a billion dollars worth of cargo crosses the bridge every day.
WEINGARTNER: In February it was named the second most congested area in the US for truck bottlenecks by the American Transportation Research Institute, just behind Fort Lee, New Jersey. On the same day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a national campaign calling for federal action.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 2: We have been talking about fixing this bridge for 20 years. It is time to stop talking and acting.
WEINGARTNER: The fix currently proposed is a $ 2.6 billion plan to repair the existing Brent Spence and build a new bridge next to it to distribute the traffic load. Local and state leaders have been fighting over sources of funding for decades. Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell was asked about the president’s plan when he spoke in his home state of Kentucky this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MITCH MCCONNELL: Before such a massive bill – and we’ll see how that works – projects of this magnitude will not be fully funded by the federal government. As you all wrote repeatedly when Boehner was the spokesman and I was the majority leader, we would have done it if we had figured out how to do it.
WEINGARTNER: He’s referring to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner from Ohio. Officials from Kentucky and Ohio say they are ready to invest some money but need help from the federal government. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber is pushing for bipartisan consensus on infrastructure, despite not being interested in changing tax laws to pay for it. Back at the stadium, Judy Hearn is walking her dog Cash and is excited about the prospect that the bridge project will finally become a reality.
JUDY HEARN: Of course there are some problems. It seems like there are a lot of accidents. It just seems like the bridge had its time and talked a lot. So we just need some money – a few US dollars to get this corridor going.
WEINGARTNER: A White House official tells NPR whether the president’s plan will be approved. States can submit applications explaining why their projects should be included. Residents here hope the Brent Spence Bridge makes it onto that list. For NPR News, I’m Tana Weingartner in Cincinnati.
(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING HEADS SONG, “THE GREAT LAND”) Transcript by NPR, Copyright NPR.