Despite Louisville bridge closure, federal help for Ky. infrastructure remains unclear, officials say

09/17/2011 11:51 AM

Kentucky faces a “multitude of challenging bridge issues,” but it remains unclear how much money the federal government can kick in to fix them through emergency funding, a stimulus bill or regular highway dollars, said U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Saturday.

McConnell, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, was among a group of elected officials on Saturday who toured the closed Sherman Minton Bridge along I-64 that crosses the Ohio River between New Albany, Ind., and Louisville.

That delegation, which also included Kentucky and federal transportation officials, declined to give details about the condition of the cracked steel beams in the bridge that led to the bridge’s closing on Sept. 9. McConnell said a report that’s expected to be finished in the next several weeks would give officials a better idea of how long the bridge would be closed, how much work it would need and the best way to proceed.

McConnell said Congress continued the U.S. highway funding bill for five months this week. So additional funding for the Sherman Minton Bridge — once the scope of repairs are known — could be included into the long-range extension of the highway funding bill that will be renegotiated starting in January.

In the meantime, McConnell said the “troubled” Sherman Minton Bridge is just one of several major bridges or proposed bridges into Kentucky in the construction queue.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat, told reporters he expected the bridge to be closed for at least “a few months.”

And he said the Sherman Minton Bridge closure made it more essential that Congress support infrastructure spending that President Barack Obama proposed as part of his jobs/stimulus plan he announced earlier this month.

But McConnell wouldn’t commit to supporting that portion of Obama’s proposal, although he said he’s still considering it.

Obama is coming to Cincinnati next week to make his case for infrastructure spending by using as a backdrop the Brent Spence Bridge between Ohio and Northern Kentucky. A chunk of concrete that crumbled from that bridge delayed traffic in June while Kentucky lawmakers were in that area for committee meetings.

Yarmuth said now is the time for broad infrastructure spending and said Obama might be using the wrong bridge to Kentucky as a poster-child for his proposal.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the Sherman Minton’s closing underscores the need for new bridges to Louisville, as proposed with an East End Bridge and new Downtown Bridge. But he said it doesn’t necessarily speed up the time-table.

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