When Ohio and Kentucky asked the federal government to help pay for the Brent Spence Bridge project in May 2022, they put the price of the work at close to $2.8 billion.
Today, the estimated cost is $3.6 billion for the Brent Spence Corridor Project.
Why the rise in cost? Who will absorb the additional costs? What about design options?
(The Q&A below is excerpted from a Cincinnati Enquirer article written by reporter Patricia Gallagher Newberry. She posed the following questions to the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Here are replies, lightly edited, provided by Matt Bruning, ODOT press secretary; and Naitore Djigbenou, KYTC executive director of public affairs)
Question: Let’s start with the design. Can you tell us what the new bridge – to be erected just west of the existing Brent Spence – will look like?
Answer: Two designs – both very basic and extremely preliminary – are under consideration. Both have been contenders since at least 2011. One is a tied-arch concept and the other is a cable-stayed bridge. Both designs will be updated in collaboration with whatever design-build team is hired to design the new bridge. The states will share more details as the process continues. (Of note, the tied-arch option has been used more often in the states’ recent communications although both are still in the running.)
Q: What can you say about why the price went up from $2.8 billion to $3.6 billion?
Answer: In April 2022, the project team updated the total project cost estimate at $2.8 billion based on an inflation analysis report. This figure was used in the federal grant application.
The Federal Highway Administration requires any project with a cost above $500 million to go through an estimation process to capture potential cost overruns and risk that earlier estimates may not have captured. That process resulted in the $3.6 billion figure the states are using now.
The $3.6 billion figure is more comprehensive and represents their best estimate for the total project cost, including dollars already spent.
ODOT evaluates inflation data every six months to help with project cost estimating. New data came in between the grant application and the latest figure. Here are the states’ inflation projections: FY 2023 (5.9%), 2024 (4.4%), 2025 (2%), 2026 (2.25%), 2027 (3.2%), 2028-2032 (3%). Source: Ohio Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Q: How has inflation affected construction, specifically?
A: The biggest increases are expected in steel, cement and asphalt. For example, liquid asphalt prices have climbed 56% year-over-year. Steel prices increased 110% from 2021 to 2022. Nationally, ready mix concrete prices rose 11.3% in FY2022, more than tripling the rate increases each of the previous three years. Nationally, prices for aggregates such as gravel and crushed stone rose 9.3% in FY2022, more than doubling the rate increases in the previous three years.
Q: How much of the $1.6 billion in federal funding will go to each state?
A: The states are awaiting funding details from the U.S. Department of Transportation that will clarify each of their allotments.
Q: Can you say what pots of money each state will tap to cover the balance?
A: Both states plan to use a combination of state and federal highway dollars and bonds to cover their shares.
In 2022, the Kentucky General Assembly passed and Gov. Andy Beshear signed a budget bill that included $250 million in general fund dollars to fulfill state match commitments for large projects such as this one.
Q: Are tolls back on the table as a possible way to cover the costs?
A: No. Each state is committed to supplementing the grant funding provided to cover total project costs. The initial financial plan, which will include those details, is anticipated to be released in the second quarter of 2023.
Q: Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and President Joe Biden are both pro-union and seemed to indicate that the project will use union labor. What can you tell us about that?
A: It’s essentially a certainty that union workers will be used for parts of the project because federal regulations on all highway projects require prevailing wage. The states are also working with local labor unions to increase diversity and inclusion efforts. They want to make sure the project creates opportunities for everyone from large contractors to small, local, women- and minority-owned businesses.
Q: Brown and Biden also talked about made-in-America products, again seeming to indicate that the bridge project will use only American-made parts. Is that a given?
A: Highway projects have been required to follow “buy American” standards for iron and steel for quite some time. The 2021 federal infrastructure law added additional materials that must meet those standards.
Q: What is the best way to keep up with the bridge project?
A: Residents can sign up to receive e-newsletters at https://brentspencebridgecorridor.com/.