Built in 1963, the bridge was designed to handle 85,000 vehicles per day. It’s estimated that more than 160,000 vehicles cross it daily.

Having again failed to find a way to finance improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge—and with some now questioning the need for a $2.6 billion project to alleviate congestion on the overcrowded span—it’s time for Northern Kentucky legislators to get together to discuss the issue, their leader has decided.

Hours after the Kentucky General Assembly adjourned at 3:20 a.m. on March 25, and still in Frankfort herself, state Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, told NKY Magazine that as chairwoman of the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus, she planned to convene special meetings to discuss what to do about the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries both Interstate 75 and I-71 across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington. She had not yet set dates for the meetings.

Back home in Northern Kentucky, others, like homebuilder—and adamant opponent of tolls to finance the bridge—Matth Toebben, were breathing more freely: “Well, it sounds like it’s dead. I hope it’s dead for good, because it’s bad for Northern Kentucky,” Toebben says. “It’s a huge cost to Northern Kentucky.”

Toebben says he favors a new 67-mile highway corridor proposed by homebuilding colleague Henry Fischer that would extend I-71 through southern Campbell and Kenton counties to alleviate bridge congestion and create eight or nine new interstate interchanges in Northern Kentucky alone. Just imagine all the new homes and businesses that could be built near those interchanges, Toebben suggests.

“We need to look at the long-range future, and have that traffic go somewhere else rather than a bottleneck in Covington and Cincinnati, when it has nowhere to go from there,” Toebben says. “We need to look ahead, to the future, and build our road system so it’s good for the next hundred years, not just keep spending money and throwing it in the same pothole.”

Also in Northern Kentucky, longtime Campbell County Judge-executive Steve Pendery, a Republican, voiced dismay that given the bridge congestion is worsening by the year, Northern Kentucky lawmakers did not focus their attention on ways to cooperate with Ohio’s state government to build a bridge that would add lanes to reduce congestion and wrecks on the overcrowded bridge.

“It’s very depressing,” Pendery says.

“I think we have the argument backwards,” Pendery adds. “We shouldn’t be talking about tolls until we decide that we need a bridge and start pushing that vision in Frankfort. And then we’ll find out how they propose to pay for it when we get to that stage. Then we can complain about whatever their plan for financing it is.”

Even the governors of both states, including fiscally conservative Ohio Gov. John Kasich, so far have shown more commitment to solving the issue than Northern Kentucky legislators.

At this point, Northern Kentucky’s legislative delegation is strongly against the possibility of tolls, without offering their own solution of how to fund the bridge in a way that is likely to happen in the next several years.

“My folks don’t want to pay no tolls,” state Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, said in a recent speech to fellow lawmakers, which was televised on KET-TV. Simpson also has argued that the existing Brent Spence span has a useful life of two more decades, and has suggested that local officials should wait that long if necessary to see if Washington somehow will step up to finance a new bridge, without a need for tolls.

That’s different from Simpson’s position in early 2007, before tolls were considered necessary to finance at least part of the bridge’s cost. Back then, Simpson was one of two Kentucky lawmakers who filed resolutions in Kentucky’s legislature urging Congress to accelerate funding for the bridge.

“This is our region’s No. 1 priority,” Simpson told The Kentucky Enquirer at the time. “The bridge is unsafe. There are no lanes to get over if a motorist’s vehicle is disabled in the middle lanes. The traffic count exceeds, by a large margin, what it should be carrying.”

“It needs to be replaced,” Simpson added back then.

Simpson in recent weeks did not answer several calls for comment about the Brent Spence and its financing.

Hours after the legislative session ended, Wuchner told NKY Magazine, “I’d like to have the caucus hold some meetings in Northern Kentucky.”

She says she hoped Kentucky Transportation Secretary Michael Hancock and people across the political spectrum would be among those who would speak to the caucus. The main goal, she adds, is: “We have to have some dialogue on ‘What do we agree on?’”

“There’s some people who say, ‘We don’t need a bridge,’” Wuchner notes. “Do we need a bridge? What is the footprint of that bridge going to look like? How will it impact the community? And have the caucus begin to hear from the no-tolls, the build-a-bridge-now, to all the factions, and begin a Northern Kentucky dialogue, and bring everybody to the table.”

Despite Simpson having declared it the region’s No. 1 priority in 2007, he and his fellow legislators haven’t discussed the bridge as a group.

“As a caucus, we’ve never sat down with everybody at the table,” Wuchner says. “Most of the time, folks are shouting from the sides of the room. And it’s imperative we get everyone to the table and have some discussion.”

“All things begin with dialogue.”

Pendery, who emphasizes he hates tolls almost as much as anybody—except those who flatly say the bridge should never be built using tolls, under any circumstances—thinks it’s time for the region’s lawmakers to have a reality check.

“I am not for tolls,” Pendery says. “I believe every man, woman and child in Northern Kentucky is against tolls, just like every man, woman and child is against taxes. But if you ask them, ‘Is this something we need, and if you had to, would you pay a toll?’ they’d say, ‘Yes, if it’s something we had to do, I really don’t want to, but if I had to, I’d pay a toll.’ That’s really what the discussion needs to be like.”

Pendery and Mark Policinski, the CEO of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, both believe Henry Fischer’s proposed new I-71 offers false hope to those with anti-toll sentiments.

Policinski calls Fischer’s proposed highway “a grandiose solution that when you get into the details, it doesn’t work. This is a 67-mile new interstate highway. It covers a thousand parcels of land.”

To think that it could be done quicker than a decade’s work toward the Brent Spence project—which was built right alongside existing highways, which made several years of environmental assessments much easier—is unreasonable, as is the idea it could be done less expensively and without tolls, Pendery and Policinski say, echoing a jointly signed letter to Fischer from Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Hancock.

Wray and Hancock noted that even a new I-71 corridor, which also would require local money such as tolls, would not remove significant traffic from the Brent Spence.

Pendery, Policinski and Trey Grayson, the president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, all think that if Congress ever does agree on a way to finance large bridges and other behemoth highway projects without tolls, it might take a decade or more for them to do so, because that solution likely will be tied to overall tax reform. Also, in the current political climate, Washington leaders in recent years have been unable to agree on much that involves finances.

“The idea that we’re going to be able to delay our way to success, or delay our way to a solution, I don’t know anybody who believes that, outside of a few folks in Northern Kentucky,“ Policinski says. “I really don’t.”

Had legislation passed allowing the states to explore possible public-private partnerships, the states would now be able to start learning prices of different design concepts, Pendery says. Transportation officials and lawmakers could then “price all those different things and set the one at the top off in competition with the others, and see what you have to choose from,” he says.

“I think all the options should be on the table and they should be priced so you have competition from among the different possibilities,” Pendery adds. “Then, from there, you can value-engineer and decide this project’s a little too expensive, and get it down to a number. And once you have it down to a number, now you try to figure out how to pay for it. And now we’re doing it backwards: We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for something that we really don’t know the construction method, we don’t know the cost, and it’s just dumb.”