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Obama’s Bridge to Nowhere



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President Obama travels to Cincinnati today to deliver a speech near the Brent Spence Bridge, a 48-year-old structure spanning the Ohio River that has been declared functionally obsolete. It’s also right next door to House Speaker John Boehner’s (R., Ohio) district (the White House insists they chose it from a “long list”). I write about it on the homepage:

In his address to Congress earlier this month, President Obama singled out the bridge as example of one that “needs repair.” White House press secretary Jay Carney echoed this line last week. “It’s pretty clear that this bridge could benefit from a little repair and renovation,” he told reporters. But local authorities are already on the case. They have been working for nearly a decade on a plan to replace the bridge with an entirely new structure, part of a broader initiative to alleviate vehicle congestion in the area.

Pfeiffer told the Enquirer that passing the president’s jobs bill would put unemployed construction workers to work right away on infrastructure projects across Ohio and Kentucky. The term “shovel-ready” comes to mind. However, there is nothing “shovel-ready” about the Brent Spence Bridge. Analysis on the project began only recently, and the Federal Highway Administration has yet to open the issue to public comment. Even if all the necessary funding were in place (which it’s not), the FHWA estimates, the earliest possible start date for construction on the project would be 2015, with a completion date in 2022.

Part of the reason is that various noise and environmental studies are still being conducted to ensure that the project is in compliance with state and federal regulations. According to a 2004 agreement between Ohio and Kentucky, the “environmental phase” of the Brent Spence Bridge project was estimated to cost $18 million.

But don’t expect Obama to mention any of that in his speech today. On the bright side, at least the people of Ohio don’t seem to be buying the White House shtick. Today’s front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer says it all. The accompanying story explains further:

WASHINGTON – A presidential visit is a big deal, but will it actually guarantee funding for the aged and overused Brent Spence Bridge?

Not really, say transportation experts and highway officials.

That’s not how highway funding works. When you consider the partisan bickering over the president’s jobs bill and the stalled federal transportation bill, the bridge looks no closer to getting the $2.4 billion needed to replace it than before it caught the White House’s attention.

First, there’s the president’s jobs bill, which is the reason for his trip. In his joint address to Congress on Sept. 8, Obama called on Congress to immediately pass his plan. But the bill has received a lukewarm reception on the Hill, where even Democrats haven’t rallied around it.

The bill itself contains no mention of the Brent Spence bridge, or any other specific projects. Even if the bill is passed, it’s not clear funding included in the bill for stimulus or the creation of a national infrastructure bank would ever reach the bridge.

That’s because if the point of the jobs bill is to create jobs now, then the Brent Spence Bridge may make a nice backdrop for a speech, but it’s not the best example of a shovel-ready project.

More here.

Obama will speak at 2:30 p.m. You can watch it here.



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