Ohio-Kentucky Brent Spence Bridge wins federal environmental approval

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The long-planned Kentucky-Ohio Brent Spence Bridge won environmental approval from the Biden administration Friday, a “major milestone” for the bistate project that’s been in planning for more than 10 years.

“This is an important step forward in bringing efficiency to our nation’s supply chain,” said said Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. “The project will address one of the worst truck bottlenecks in the nation by improving safety and travel on an interstate connection that carries more than $400 billion worth of freight every year.”

Because I-75 is a key freight corridor running from Florida to Canada, traffic congestion affects commercial and commuter traffic up and down the East Coast. The Brent Spence Bridge was built in the 1960s to carry about 80,000 vehicles a day. Now on a daily basis, traffic on Interstate 75 and I-71 reaches about 160,000 vehicles and $1 billion of freight every day.

The Federal Highway Administration issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” or FONSI, decision Friday, based on the project’s social, economic and environmental effects, as well as measures to mitigate unavoidable impacts and public comments. A supplemental environmental assessment was required for the project since 12 years had elapsed since an original environmental assessment was approved in 2012.

The decision allows the project to advance to design and construction and paves the way for a groundbreaking “in the coming months,” according to officials.

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear have hammered out a long-sought deal to rebuild the Brent Spence Bridge.

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The Biden administration in late 2022 gave the states a $1.6 billion grant from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to support the span.

Local and federal officials have pursued a Brent Spence improvement for years. In 2014, the states estimated the price tag at $3.57 billion and envisioned a public-private partnership. In 2022, DeWine and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding that included a slightly smaller project without tolls, eliminating what had become a sticking point for some lawmakers. The bridge will be structured as a design-build project.

Beshear called Thursday’s environmental clearance  ”a major milestone for us.”

The Brent Spence span has won bipartisan support on the federal level from the Biden administration and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who helped to secure funding by shepherding the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through the Senate in November 2021.

“This is a big step in supporting the President’s commitment to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” said FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt in a statement. “This bridge is a vital connector of goods to thousands of people in Kentucky and Ohio, and the investment in the Brent Spence Bridge will ensure the surrounding communities, and communities across the entire country, benefit from these improvements for decades to come.”  

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