(WHAS11) President Barack Obama will have bipartisan company on Air Force One as he travels to a speech in Cincinnati on Thursday, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky).
The emergency closure of Louisville's Sherman Minton Bridge, the span carrying I-64 drivers over the Ohio River, nearly two weeks ago is the galvanizing force. Both Paul, a darling of the Tea Party in his first year in office, and Yarmuth, an unapologetic liberal, say they will speak to the President about the bridge closure.
“The closure of this major transportation artery in Louisville has not only caused substantial hardship for commuters and local businesses, but has disrupted transportation and commerce for the entire region," Yarmuth said in a statement, "I am eager to discuss its impact as well as the critical need for infrastructure investment in Kentucky."
Despite the bipartisan call for a solution, political agendas are also apparent.
Mr. Obama is campaigning for his jobs plan in Ohio, a crucial swing state in his 2012 re-election bid. The backdrop for his speech is the Brent Spence Bridge, a "functionally obosolete" bridge which carries I-71 and I-75 traffic between Kentucky and Ohio.
Yarmuth has suggested that the Sherman Minton Bridge is the poster child for Mr. Obama's jobs plan, which proposes hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investment. On Saturday, Yarmuth said that the president is visiting the wrong bridge.
Paul is proposing an emergency bridge fund to be paid for by cutting money from projects Paul derides as frivolous and unnecessary, such as turtle tunnels, squirrel sanctuaries, movie theaters and flower beds.
“I am looking forward to speaking with the President in my home state to address the express need for attention to our nation's critical infrastructure needs," Paul said in a statement, "I will present him with my plan to prioritize these projects by freeing up funding to fix our broken roads and bridges, for which America’s businesses and commerce is so dependent."
Paul's plan also directs the Highway Funds Administrator to develop a national priority list for bridge and road repair emergencies and disburse the money based on the urgency of the project.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) are scheduled to speak with the president about regional infrastructure needs in separate meetings. Beshear is expected to speak with Mr. Obama at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky. Fischer is scheduled to meet with the president prior to the speech in Cincinnati, where the outdated Brent Spence Bridge will be the backdrop as the president rallies support for his jobs plan.
Fischer said his meeting with the president will probably last five to 15 minutes.
"We've got exhibit 'A' in Louisville terms of investing in infrastructure," Fischer said, "We didn't invest soon enough, so now 80,000 vehicles are not passing over that bridge soon enough. People are frustrated sitting in traffic. We should be focusing on the Sherman Minton bridge."
Also on the agenda is the Ohio River Bridges Project, the decades delayed construction plan suddenly thrust on the front burner.
One Kentucky politician who will be nowhere near the president on Thursday is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who panned the bridge event on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
“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, "But I don’t think he’s fooling anybody."
While the President is not making a detour to Louisville on Thursday, top U.S. transportation officials will tour the Sherman Minton Bridge on Friday. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez will join Paul and Yarmuth on the I-64 span.