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Published: Monday, 4/14/2008

Voinovich renews push for Ohio-Kentucky bridge tolls


CINCINNATI - U.S. Sen. George Voinovich wants to reopen talks on an idea that has already caused a public outcry - charging tolls to pay for a new bridge to link two interstates from Ohio to Kentucky.

The Ohio Republican said tolls cannot be ruled out of the discussion in planning a replacement for the 45-year-old Brent Spence Bridge, which carries 150,000 cars and trucks a day across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.

The bridge that carries I-71 and I-75 needs replacement because it's overcrowded, too narrow, and lacks emergency lanes. The cost of replacement is estimated at $750 million.

Two bills to authorize tolls to pay for the bridge died this spring in the Kentucky Legislature under pressure from the public. Mr. Voinovich said tolls must be part of the discussion to replace it. He planned to meet officials from both states today.

Kentucky alone cannot be expected to pay for it, Mr. Voinovich said.

"It can't happen without federal funding," said Mr. Voinovich, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees interstate highways. "The question is how much federal funding - and that has to do with some major decisions we make with regard to not only that bridge but nationally."

Kentucky state Rep. Arnold Simpson (D., Covington), who opposed the tolls, agreed the project needs federal help.

"It's a federal system that connects the nation," he said.

Mr. Voinovich said the region's economy depends on keeping its infrastructure strong.

"It's a national issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

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