The phrase “user fee” is often mentioned by the pro-toll coalition—and sometimes the press—regarding tolling the Brent Spence Bridge. It was on full display again at this week’s press conference with Governors Beshear and Kasich.
People who use the bridge should pay for it with a “user fee.” It sounds simple and fair, doesn’t it? But is it an accurate description for the plan to toll the Brent Spence Bridge?
The short answer is: No, the placement of the tolling gantries does not allow for all users to be charged the user fee.
According to an interview with Mark Policinksi, head of OKI, in October 2014, the plan is to place the gantries on the bridge itself. Mr. Policinski’s explanation for this is that federal laws regarding tolling existing Interstates is strict, and will only allow for placement on the bridge.
If the tolls were only being used to pay for the new span and the upgrade of the existing bridge, it would be more than fair to call this a user fee.
Under the current plan for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, however, they plan to complete approximately $600 million in upgrades in Kentucky on the highway leading up to the bridge. They also plan to complete approximately $1 Billion in upgrades in Ohio on the Western Hills viaduct and the highway leading up to the bridge.
If the toll gantries are placed on the bridge, drivers who exit the corridor before crossing the bridge will not pay the toll even though they are utilizing parts of the corridor that have been upgraded.
Bridge users will be subsidizing “free riders” on both sides of the river.
That’s not a true user fee, and it certainly isn’t fair. Why should bridge users—mostly NKY commuters—subsidize Ohio commuters traveling from the Northern suburbs into downtown Cincinnati?