Kentucky approves public-private partnerships, minus Brent Spence Bridge project

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The four-year pursuit of public-private partnerships to get needed road and bridge work done in Kentucky has completed its trek through the statehouse.

House lawmakers voted 86-8 to sign off on Senate changes to a bill that would authorize private funding for state and local projects. The tolling authority excludes any interstate project that connects Kentucky with Ohio, namely the Brent Spence Bridge project.

The bill, HB309, now moves to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk for his signature. Senate lawmakers already approved the bill on a 29-9 vote.

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said her legislation would permit the state to work together with private groups to get projects underway that might otherwise not be started because of limited government revenues.

Combs, who is in her final year on the job, has tried four times in recent years to get PPP legislation through the statehouse. Concern about tolls being collected to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project has derailed previous efforts.

Two years ago then-Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed a bill that excluded the northern Kentucky project. He said at the time it was a bad idea to eliminate any funding options for the project to replace the bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 into Cincinnati.

In 2015, a similar attempt that left the door open to charging tolls on the replacement bridge gained passage in the House but failed to muster enough support in the Senate.

Open to traffic in 1963, the Brent Spence Bridge carries twice as many vehicles per day as it was designed to accommodate. Today, it is used to transport nearly $420 billion worth of goods each year.

The replacement and renovation project has a price tag of $2.6 billion. Kentucky and Ohio must enact laws authorizing public-private partnerships to move forward with plans to privatize the bridge.

A 2014 Ohio law authorizes toll taxes to pay off reconstruction of the state’s portion of the bridge.

In an effort to overcome concerns at the Kentucky statehouse about the project, this year’s bill specifically prohibits tolls from being collected on the replacement bridge.

During discussion on the House floor about concurrence on Senate changes to the bill Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, asked Combs to confirm that nothing was added to the bill in the Senate that could open the door to tolling the Brent Spence Bridge replacement.

“I assure you there were no changes made to any roadways. ... In fact, there was language added to address your concerns about tolling in northern Kentucky. You can rest assured everything is safe. It will not be tolled,” Combs said.

Exclusion of PPP authority for the replacement bridge is welcomed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The Association has communicated with state lawmakers conveying the concerns of professional truckers.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek has said imposing a new tax on all highway users would restrict mobility, divert traffic, and increase commuting costs for families and businesses.

Also included in HB309 is a requirement that projects exceeding $25 million must be authorized by the General Assembly.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Kentucky, click here.

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