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Obama to highlight aging bridge between Kentucky and Ohio during visit

CINCINNATI (AP) - Of the thousands of bridges, highways and
other infrastructure across the nation in need of repair or
replacement, President Barack Obama is paying special attention to
a 1960s-built double-decker across the Ohio River laden with
political ramifications.
The Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky - the
respective home states of Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - will serve as the backdrop Thursday to a visit by Obama to promote his jobs plan.
"You think these things happen by accident?" Boehner asked
this week.
White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer agreed Wednesday that the
location is no accident, saying the president will contend his plan
would put construction workers back to work on a project critical
to both Ohio and Kentucky - "if the Republican leaders in Congress
were willing to work with the president and the Democrats to do
something that would create jobs in the economy."
Obama already highlighted the bridge, which officials estimate
carries 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product annually,
when he presented his jobs plan to Congress earlier this month.
Keeping attention focused on the bridge also enables the White
House to heat up the 2012 political campaign in the presidential
election swing state of Ohio, where an incumbent Democratic senator
also faces a re-election battle.
Spotlighting the Brent Spence makes sense to Andy Fox, office
manager for Green B.E.A.N. Delivery in Cincinnati, which uses the
bridge frequently to deliver organic and other fresh produce in the
Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana region.
"I would think that would shore up his cred with the hometown
crowd here," Fox said. "I can't imagine that it would hurt."
The bridge has been deemed "functionally obsolete" by federal
standards for years.
"It's just frightening," Fox said of the span that carries
170,000 vehicles a day, more than double the original capacity.
"It's almost always a story every day, often really close calls."
Fox said the bridge has blind spots and lanes too tight for the
heavy truck traffic. Traffic from two interstates - 75 and 71 - is
funneled across the bridge, with complex choices for motorists on
either end seeking to exit or merge. It also lacks emergency lanes,
adding even more danger after a breakdown or an accident - a
Cincinnati man was knocked into the river and died after a traffic
accident on the bridge in June.
"Everybody around this region agrees that it has to happen, so
how can you diss it?" said Gene Beaupre, a Xavier University
political scientist. "Regionally, I think it was brilliant, the
simple politics of it ... it's a very effective image to describe
what he's trying to do."
Obama's visit will be his second to Ohio in two weeks. Vice
President Joe Biden has already been to the state twice this month.
"They're more interested in counting votes than creating
jobs," said Kevin DeWine, Ohio GOP chairman. "They come to Ohio
because it's a state they have to win to get re-elected."
The state also will likely be pivotal for the Republican
nominee. No modern-day Republican has been elected president
without carrying Ohio. George W. Bush did twice; Obama won in 2008.
Additionally, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who had been
lobbying the administration about the bridge, will face a
Republican challenger in Ohio as he seeks a second term in 2012.
DeWine said that while Brown has advocated Obama's spending
programs, Ohio unemployment is still at 9.1 percent.
Brown in August gathered labor leaders and officials of
companies including the United Parcel Service and grocery chain
Kroger Co. in Cincinnati to highlight the bridge's importance.
"It is a key issue around here," said Doug Sizemore, who heads
the AFL-CIO council in Cincinnati. "It's turning the economy
around, it's taking care of infrastructure needs and creating
jobs."
The project would bring tens of thousands of jobs in bridge and
related highway construction. But the growing price tag, now at
$2.4 billion, has left it still needing funding. And Republican
officials say with more engineering and other preliminary study
needed, it's still years away from being "shovel-ready" for many
new jobs.
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, said the bridge
for years has had bipartisan support and he hopes that it doesn't
suddenly become a political sticking point.
"I welcome the president's new-found support of the Brent
Spence," Chabot said. "I just hope that politics won't get in the
way of it."
Boehner, speaking to a business luncheon this week, said "a
real highway bill" from Congress should be used to help states
fund infrastructure needs. He described Obama's plan as more taxes
and "spending more money that we don't have."
McConnell's office released a statement earlier saying there
were bridges in need of work in Virginia and other places nearer
Washington that Obama could visit.
"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," McConnell said
Wednesday in Washington. "But I don't think he's fooling anyone."
Among other bridges in need: the Sherman Minton Bridge down the river in Louisville, Ky. It has been shut down because of safety
concerns since Sept. 9, the day after Obama announced his jobs
plan.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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