COVINGTON — Since President Barack Obama stood in front of Northern Kentucky's Brent Spence Bridge last year and proclaimed the need to replace it, no clear funding source has materialized for the $2.4 billion needed to replace the nearly half-century-old span.
Some members of Congress and local residents wonder whether money for beautification and for other projects, including "turtle tunnels" and "squirrel sanctuaries," could help pay for a replacement bridge. The money for such projects usually comes from transportation enhancement grants, but federal stimulus funds have been used.
Needs such as the bridge should take precedence over beautification, said Brent Cooper, chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Transportation officials say all the enhancement grants in the country would account for less than half of the bridge's replacement cost.
Kentucky hasn't used transportation enhancement grants since 2009, when the state had $28 million in transportation enhancement projects, said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The state has $18 million authorized by the federal government that could be used for these projects, but it hasn't been allocated, he said.
"The economy is a factor," Wolfe said. "As far as local governments, with 20 percent to match the grants and the economy being poor, it is more difficult for you to do."
Some funding for beautification projects might go into the bridge project, said Brian Cunningham, spokesman for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the region's top transportation planning agency. But it will take more sources to get it built. The Ohio Department of Transportation will soon start an analysis of various financing plans, Cunningham said. The Kentucky General Assembly set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013, for a financing plan to be in place before any more federal money is used.
Some people said they hope Congress will look at transportation enhancement grants to finance the bridge project.
"It depends on the situation, but in general, I use the analogy of your teeth," Cooper said. "If your teeth are falling out, it does no good to whiten them.
"If roads and bridges are falling into the river, we need infrastructure, so in general it makes more sense to me to focus on the infrastructure than the beautification piece."