Why Oppose Tolls?

Tolls are an unfair burden on drivers who depend on the Brent Spence Bridge. Tolling creates traffic diversion, congestion and safety issues on local or secondary roads, and will have disastrous effects on the Northern Kentucky economy.

What impact will tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge have on Northern Kentucky's economy?


Tolls will negatively impact commuters, local governments, consumers, communities, and Business in Northern Kentucky. Tolls increase costs for all businesses who use the Brent Spence Bridge to move raw materials, products, or people resulting in a competitive disadvantage for local businesses and an increased cost of living to our residents.

Over 175,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, with 63-65% of those vehicles being Northern Kentucky drivers. If those 113,750 drivers pay a toll of $2.50 a trip it will cost Northern Kentucky almost $104 million a year. Those lost dollars then fail to circulate and affect our community. If you multiply that by a standard money multiplier effect of X5, it will cost our community over half a billion dollars a year.

And this does not include Trucks at $5-$12 a trip.

How much congestion is caused by the Brent Spence Bridge?


Congestion in the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor currently costs commuters an average of 3.4 minutes per day.

Advocates of a new toll bridge claim that congestion on the Brent Spence costs commuters 3.6 million hours of delay per year.  That number seems large, but when you do the math, it averages to 3.4 minutes, per commuter, per day. Approximately 172,000 vehicles cross the bridge per day, or 62,787,000 per year. 3.6 million hours equals 216,000,000 minutes. 216,000,000 minutes divided by 62,787,000 vehicles equals 3.44 minutes per day.

The TTI Study estimates the “cost of congestion” born by passenger vehicles at $56,091,486 a year (approximately $16 per hour spent in traffic). Even with the lowest possible toll, $1, passengers would be paying $62,787,000, more than the cost of congestion. With a more realistic toll, the disparity grows.

What impact will tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge have on other traffic?


Traffic diversion will create congestion locally in many communities in Northern Kentucky. The Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and Roebling Suspension Bridge will be most impacted from diverted traffic, but many other local roads will experience unexpected diversion and a change in traffic patterns. The congestion will delay response times for emergency personnel and will make travel more difficult for local residents.

An analysis of diversion following the imposition of tolls is of considerable interest. A large part of this diversion away from Brent Spence Bridge is absorbed by the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge. While in 2018, AADT on Brent Spence may be expected to decrease by 77, 000 in response to the introduction of a $2 toll, volumes on Clay Wade Bailey are expected to increase by 24,000 and on the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge by 25,000.

Brent Spence Bridge Corridor, Options Analysis, 10/1/2013 pp. 48-49

It's unlikely that the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge could survive this much additional traffic.

The Roebling suspension bridge carries nearly 9,000 vehicles daily, according to a 2012 state traffic count. That also could more than double, to 18,500 vehicles daily, under the $2 toll scenario.

There are serious questions about whether the historic structure can handle that additional volume. In 2008, the bridge’s weight limit was lowered from 15 to 11 tons, removing buses and heavy trucks to ease the load. In May, an inspection report revealed that the giant sandstone towers that support the bridge’s cables are beginning to show signs of wear.

Amanda Van Benschoten, Covington Leaders feel shut out of Bridge plans, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/29/2013

There has been no systematic study of the impact of diversion on Northern Kentucky’s transportation infrastructure. Ohio just appropriated money to begin studying the impact of Brent Spence tolls on regional traffic patterns. The study will cost $8 million, and the subject is the structure of the tolls, not their wisdom.


Will a new bridge span eliminate congestion?


No. Even using the toll advocates' assumptions, there would still be 708,000 hours of congestion in the Brent Spence corridor per year. The total commute time saved by a new span would be 2.8 minutes per day.

Advocates of the Corridor Plan understand that it will not resolve congestion:

“The way Cincinnati is laid out, the more lanes you build on 75, the more traffic you draw because you have the Norwood Lateral, you have Cross County Highway, you have a parallel route with 71,” [Ohio Department of Transportation’s Brent Spence project manager Stefan] Spinosa said. “We could continue to build lanes on 75 but they would fill because of the nature of the traffic network in the region.”

Ohio and Kentucky could have planned to build up to seven lanes in each direction but chose not to, Spinosa said.

“The plan is to build one additional lane, do interchange improvements, then at that point … there is a mass transit component that would need to come online at some point in the future to address any future demand,” he said.

What will happen on the new Brent Spence when more traffic comes to I-75?, Cincinnati Business Courier, March 30, 2015

Congestion at 275:

The Brent Spence Bridge Corridor plan will disrupt the interstate system further south. Should the expected increase in traffic materialize, the 1-275 interchange will become the new bottleneck; the billions of dollars spent on the corridor will only shift congestion a few miles deeper into Kentucky. Notably, access to the airport and key logistical centers in Kentucky will suffer as I-275 becomes a parking lot.

The Corridor Plan expands the Bridge from four lanes to eight, with additional lanes available during rush hour.

Source: Brent Spence Bridge Project Options Analysis, September 2013

Those 8+ lanes reduce to 3 as you approach I-275. There is no plan to add additional capacity from I-275 to the I-75/71 split in Richwood, necessary for Kentucky to benefit from the Corridor Project. The expansion of the interstate from to Richwood would take considerable time and money -- estimates place the cost at over a billion dollars in additional spending.

Congestion Caused by Tolls:

Toll advocates believe that many people will initially divert to other bridges to avoid paying tolls, but will some eventually trickle back to the Brent Spence as those other bridges become congested. That process will disrupt regional transportation patterns for decades, and will leave the rest of our road network with a significantly higher equilibrium congestion.


 Source:Brent Spence Bridge Project Options Analysis, September 2013


Are tolls a smart way to pay for transportation infrastructure?


No. Tolling is tremendously inefficient. We will pay more on the front end in higher borrowing costs to finance the project, and more on the backend, as toll-overhead is a dead weight loss to the region.

Nationally, 33.5% of toll revenue is spent on overhead.

With respect to costs as percentage of revenues, the toll agencies analyzed typically expended 33.5% of revenues to cover administrative, toll collection, and enforcement costs in 2007.

Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Report 689: Costs of Alternative Revenue Generation Systems, 2011 pp. 73-74

Ohio, in particular, has a poor track record with toll administration expenses.

In 2007, the average cost per transaction for the agencies analyzed was $0.54. The costs for urban and multi-road toll-road agencies tended to have a relatively high number of related transactions, which tended to decrease the overall cost per transaction. In particular, NTTA and OOCEA recorded an average cost per transaction of $0.16 and $0.17, respectively. In comparison, single facility toll agencies had a higher cost per transaction. Specifically, total costs per transaction for the Ohio Turnpike and SR-91 were $1.43 and $1.34, respectively.

Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Report 689: Costs of Alternative Revenue Generation Systems, 2011 p. 74

Given the financial difficulty toll roads have faced in the last few years, toll driven projects are financed at a significantly higher interest rate.

A common financing issue is that P3s are almost always structured with a BBB- rating, which rewards bondholders, but penalizes citizens. Most public agencies can get the necessary financing at a AA or even A rating, which is an enormous saving over a 25-30 year bond issue.

A proposed bridge project today, the Brent Spence Bridge, will connect Indiana (sic) and Kentucky. Although there is a lot of documentation for the project, it is not clear what the economic advantage is for the “availability payment” model that was chosen.

In this model, private firms will design, build, finance, operate, and maintain this toll bridge and receive “availability payments” from a “toll authority” over several decades. When you drill down into the available economic analysis, it is not clear that the engineering firm that prepared the analysis understood what the proposed financing costs would be (table 8A2) for public or private borrowers. In fact, it appears that only a day and a half of “workshops” were convened to evaluate what the cost variables would be for a multi-billion dollar project (page 19).

Cate Long, The Brent Spence Bridge Financing Puzzle, Reuters, 1/29/2014

See also:

Is the Brent Spence Bridge Safe?


Yes, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet the bridge is structurally sound. A safety inspection of the bridge was completed in late September 2014. Inspectors found the bridge to be safe and "structurally sound."

Is the Brent Spence Bridge the 7th most dangerous bridge in the country?


No, the Brent Spence Bridge has never been ranked by any transportation authority as the "7th most dangerous bridge in the country" or as "one of the most dangerous bridges in the country."

It simply is not true.

Pro-toll supporters have repeated this inaccurate statement but have never provided any evidence or documentation. They made it up to scare you into supporting tolls.

Where will tolls be collected on the Brent Spence Bridge?


We don't know. The planning entities advocating for a new bridge span will not say where they plan to begin tolling. It could be as far South as Kyles Lane and as far North as Ezzard Charles Drive -- anywhere within the "corridor." This decision will determine where and how much traffic diversion will take place.

How much will tolls be on the Brent Spence Bridge?


We don't know. Feasibility studies have examined the viability of $1/1.50 tolls and $2/$3 tolls for passenger vehicles. There has not been a publicly disclosed number for trucks, large or small.  For comparison's sake, the Ohio River Bridges in Louisville are charging:

  • With ezpass: $1 for frequent commuters, $2 for other cars, $5 for box trucks and $10 for tractor trailers.
  • With registered license plate: $2 for frequent commuters, $3 for other cars, $6 for box trucks and $11 for tractor trailers.
  • Without registered license plate: $3 for frequent commuters, $4 for other cars, $7 for box trucks and $12 for tractor trailers.

Louisville tolling authorities plan to raise rates a minimum of 2.5% each year:

To keep pace with inflation, the Tolling Body also approved an annual toll rate increase of 2.5 percent or the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater. Once the initial rates had been in effect for at least one year, the increases would take effect July 1 each year thereafter.

Tolls set for Ohio River Bridges Project, WDRB, 9/11/2013

Where will exit and entrance ramps be on the Brent Spence Bridge?


We don't know. Advocates of a new bridge have changed plans so many times over the years that it is impossible to pin down the construction plans with any accuracy. The location of the entrance and exit ramps will impact the position of tolls.

What impact will construction have on congestion?


We don't know. The disruption caused by construction of a new span on the Brent Spence Bridge doesn't appear to have been accounted for in any planning documents. The disruption caused by a decade of construction around the region will have a significant impact on our economy.

Is there an alternative to the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor plan?


Yes. There is an alternative proposal gaining support, and it is estimated to cost about half of the current plan for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor.

The proposal calls for modest improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge and the construction of a bypass to route thru-traffic around the urban core.  Estimates have put the cost of improvements to the Bridge at about $100 million, with the cost of a new bypass estimated at $1.1 Billion. In total, about half the cost of the current plan.

How would it help?

Improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge:

The suggested improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge include adding a left hand exit at Fourth Street in Covington, rerouting the Fourth Street entrance ramp in Covington back to Pike Street, slight adjustments to the geometry of the remaining ramps, and resumed maintenance on the bridge to restore its appearance on protect it from rust and corrosion.

The exit and entrance ramps at Fourth Street in Covington contribute to both safety concerns and congestion. Modest changes can reduce the lane weaving that contributes to safety concerns on the Bridge while effectively increasing capacity by removing the three-lane northbound stretch on the approach.

These minor changes would address most of the problems with the Bridge in an affordable, sensible way. The cost could easily be born by existing highway funds, making tolls unnecessary.

We have uploaded a detailed comparison of this alternative to the existing KY Brent Spence Bridge approaches.

The Cincy Eastern Bypass:

Building the Cincy Eastern Bypass will improve traffic flow and congestion on I-75, I-71, and I-275 by diverting thru-traffic, and many of the large trucks, from the existing route. According to OKI, approximately 25% of the traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge is thru-traffic that does not stop in our region. Diverting one fourth of the traffic around the region would add one lane of capacity on the Brent Spence and I-75/I-71 for use by local travelers.

You can learn more about the Cincy Eastern Bypass at http://cincyeasternbypass.com/

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