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2 options under review to build Ohio River bridge

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky and Ohio officials are considering two proposals to pay for a new Ohio River bridge in the Cincinnati area and both options include tolls, as the neighboring states try to unsnarl traffic at a site singled out by President Barack Obama as an example of the nation's aging network of bridges.

The project, with an anticipated price tag of about $2.5 billion, would build a new span alongside the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.

The 50-year-old Brent Spence carries more than 172,000 vehicles daily, more than twice the traffic load it was designed to handle. The Brent Spence would be renovated for continued use as part of the work and nearly eight miles of highway leading up to the bridge — about five in Kentucky and three in Ohio — would be improved.

The two options were submitted to the states by a consulting engineering firm.

"It's a step forward," Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said Thursday. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

Both states are hoping to start construction in 2015. The work is expected to last four or five years.

In 2011, Obama visited Cincinnati to highlight the Brent Spence as an example of the need for job-creating infrastructure projects across the country.

Transportation leaders in both states will review the proposals in coming weeks before making a recommendation to the governors of both states.

"Both Ohio and Kentucky know we cannot wait another 50 years to address this bottleneck," Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray said. "We appreciate the partners we've found in Kentucky and look forward to continuing to move this project forward."

One study found that motorists waste 3.6 million hours of time and 1.6 million gallons of fuel while sitting in traffic on the Brent Spence each year.

Kentucky transportation officials intend to include the bridge project in the six-year road plan presented to state lawmakers next year.

One option that was presented calls for the states to finance the project through a combination of federal and state funding that would include loans and bonds. Repayment of the loans and bonds would come from toll revenue.

The other proposal calls for a contractor to finance and build the bridge and to be repaid over many years. That option also includes tolls.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock is "open-minded" about the options, Wolfe said.

ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner also was non-committal about the options, and said it was possible that components of each proposal could end up in a final plan.

The consultant's report included two tolling scenarios with base rates of $1 to $2 for cars, $3 to $6 for light trucks and $5 to $10 for heavy trucks.

There would be no toll plazas or coin buckets. Instead, the bridge would use tolling gantries that rely on electronic transponders and video cameras.

Commuters could receive electronic transponders, allowing tolls to be paid through automatic debit accounts. Tolls for vehicles without transponders would be 50 percent higher. Those motorists would be billed at the address to which the vehicle is registered as determined by license plate numbers captured by video cameras.

Officials anticipate placing tolls on both the new bridge and the renovated Brent Spence, Wolfe said.

Kentucky is partnering with Indiana on another costly bridges project over the Ohio River. Work is under way on the $2.6 billion project that will build two new spans — one at downtown Louisville and the other east of the city — and renovate a third bridge.

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