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Ohio Senate okays electronic tolls to pay for replacement of Cincinnati bridge, legislature recesses until fall

The Ohio Senate gave its okay Wednesday to a bill previously passed by the state House of Representatives that allows all-electronic toll collection to finance the reconstruction of the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

After passing House Bill 533 by a 31-0 margin, the Senate recessed until sometime this fall, perhaps not to return until after the November 4 election.  The House did likewise.

Sen. Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati) called the bill, which is expected to be signed by Governor John Kasich, “an example of teamwork between the two chambers and bipartisanship.”

He said the existing bridge carries twice the daily number of vehicles it was designed for, and has been deemed structurally deficient. The bill will allow Ohio, in conjunction with Kentucky, to move toward reconstruction “of this vital infrastructure.”

The bill permits the state to install cameras to photograph license plates so motorists can be billed for crossing the new bridge if they do not use an electronic transponder or voluntarily pay their tolls online.

The measure also includes modifications to state law regulating Public Private Partnerships on state transportation projects.

One amendment requires that when the Ohio Department of Transportation evaluates a proposal to enter into a PPP, such a proposal must include a teaming agreement that identifies the proposer's primary designer, primary contractor and primary financier.  The intent of this amendment is to prevent the entity that submits a PPP proposal from changing key members of the team after selection by ODOT.

A second amendment allows ODOT to reimburse those who submit PPP proposals for a portion of their proposal costs.  The director of ODOT could condition such reimbursement on the proposer granting ODOT the right to use the work product contained in the proposal.

While passage of the bill opens the way for Ohio to share in the estimated $2.5 billion cost of replacing the Brent Spence, which carries I-71 and I-75 over the Ohio River, many members of the Kentucky legislature oppose financing the bridge replacement through tolls and there is no consensus among the state's political leaders on how to move the project forward.

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