Obama’s Visit to Ohio Bridge Incites GOP Criticism

The Brent Spence Bridge on Interstate 75 connects Ohio to Kentucky, and is in dire need of repairs, the U.S. Department of Transportation says.

The Brent Spence Bridge on Interstate 75 connects Ohio to Kentucky, and is in dire need of repairs, the U.S. Department of Transportation says.  (USDOT/FHA)

Trying to rally public support for his $450 billion jobs plan bill, President Obama is visiting a bridge in Cincinnati on Thursday that he has cited as an example of a needed repair project that could employ construction workers – even though the project is four years away from being "shovel-ready."

The Brent Spence Bridge carries people crossing between Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., the home state of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. But Republicans say Obama is more interested in crossing over to a second term than fixing the bridge or the country’s economic problems.

“The speaker, like everyone in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, knows how important this bridge is,” said Brittany Bramell, a spokeswoman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “That’s why a replacement project is already under way.

“But due in part to bureaucratic and environmental requirements, it’s at least four years away from being ‘shovel-ready’ – which begs the question: why is the president suggesting it can create jobs now?”

The White House says Obama’s visit isn’t political, calling the bridge “functionally obsolete.”

“It desperately needs rebuilding, as do substandard roads and bridges all across America,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said. “As the two most powerful Republicans in Washington, Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell can either kill this jobs bill or help the president pass it right away.

“Instead of looking for every excuse to justify doing nothing about the damaged infrastructure in their states, we believe it’s in their interest and the country’s interest to act as soon as possible and put people back to work.”

McConnell said Wednesday Obama’s visit to the bridge isn’t fooling anyone.

“President Obama may think the best way to distract people from the challenges we face is to stand near a bridge in a swing state and pit one group of Americans against another, and hope his critics look bad if they don’t go along with him,” he said on the Senate floor. “But I don’t think he’s fooling anybody.”

Two congressmen who represent the different sides of the bridge said they welcomed the president’s visit but added it smelled political to them.

“We know what the administration is up to here,” Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said. “We weren’t born yesterday.”

Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., said that Kentucky owns the bridge, so the president probably should hold his event there.

“But I respect his decision in a presidential year to do it on the Cincinnati side of the river considering the Ohio electoral votes,” he said. “But honestly, the bigger issue is that it’s good to have him there to see the importance of that.”

The bridge, built in 1963, has long been in the sights of federal officials looking to renovate the stretch along Interstate 75, which the Federal Highway Administration says is long overdue for renovation to accommodate massive growth in the region over the years. 

Analysis for the bridge repair began in earnest this year after initial drawings were submitted in April 2010. This month the FHA was to begin taking public comment. The FHA construction schedule lists its start time in 2015, with an estimated completion date of 2022.