President Obama revisited an old talking point Friday during a rare question-and-answer session with the White House press corps.
“I went to a bridge that connects Mitch McConnell’s state to John Boehner’s state, and it was a rotten bridge — and everybody knows it,” he said. “And I’ll bet they really want to see that improved. Well, how do we do it? Let’s have a conversation about it. That will create jobs. It will be good for businesses.”
Obama was lamenting the fact that “Washington generally, spends all its time talking about deficits,” as opposed to talking about how to create jobs. “We could put a lot of people back to work right now rebuilding our roads and bridges,” he said.
Obama was specifically referring to the Brent Spent Bridge, a nearly 50-year-old structure crossing the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Ky. The federal government has declared it “functionally obsolete.”
In September 2011, the president delivered a speech within sight of the bridge as part of his (unsuccessful) campaign to win congressional support for his American Jobs Act, which included tens of billions of dollars in new infrastructure spending. With additional funding, Obama argued, the Brent Spence Bridget “could be replaced right now.”
Except that it couldn’t. As I reported at the time:
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.
As for the funding, the project carries a price tag of $2.4 billion. Under a typical arrangement, the federal government provides 80 percent of the funding, with state and local governments pitching in the rest. In this case, the feds would provide $1.9 billion, with state and local governments on the hook for $500 million. So far, only about $90 million of the state and local share has been allocated. And again, even if all that funding were to be released tomorrow, actual construction wouldn’t begin for at least another four years.