More than a year has gone by since Barack Obama stood in the shadow of the Brent Spence Bridge, urging Congress to fund infrastructure improvements like replacing that 1960s era "functionally obsolete" mastodon, infamous for its bottlenecks and narrow, dangerous lanes.

Of course, Congress ignored this "socialist" plea to pass the American Jobs Act. The notion that federal funds should pay to upgrade the interstate highway system that GOP President Dwight Eisenhower conceived in the 1950s is way too RINO for this generation of Republicans. Local Congressional representatives like House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Steve Chabot and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell have snickered at the President's efforts to expedite highway and bridge funding.

Since Obama's visit to the banks of the Ohio, local Chambers of Commerce, and business poobahs have formed a "Build Our New Bridge Now" coalition with clever websites and ads touting a "public/private partnership" to speed bridge replacement that requires a revenue stream to pay off those private investors. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently acknowledged that tolls will be a critical part of any plan to cover the nearly $2.7 billion price tag.

Hang On There

But not so fast, shouts Eric Deters, lawyer-with-a-radio-microphone, for his Northern Kentucky Tea Partiers.

Why should the good citizens of Kentucky have to pay to cross that bridge? Northern Kentucky state legislators reportedly have drawn a line on the river's mucky banks against tolls.

According to the Tea Party, it's un-American to ask anyone but the federal gubmint to pay for a bridge over the Ohio River. Tolls are just another form of tax! Their senators, Tea Party darlings McConnell and Rand Paul, should just root around in the U.S. Treasury and find an extra couple of billion "” maybe by cutting veterans benefits, granny's Social Security or Medicare, or little Jed's free school lunch "” to make sure we can still cross that bridge for free!

I choked on my double skinny latte when I read this screed in my morning paper. I thought Tea Partiers were rugged individualists who blazed their own trails, just like Daniel Boone.

They stood for states' rights, paid their own way, and spit at government handouts. It was hard to imagine that they favored building roads or bridges at all, let alone wanted the federal government to do it for them.

What's wrong with an amphibious pick-up truck for those rare days when you hanker to cross to the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line?

Real Questions Remain

Of course, there are some legitimate questions about tolls, such as where to put the toll booths?

And won't drivers slide over to another bridge, just diverting the congestion? Thoughtful folks have some answers. In the age of transponders and license-plate snapping cameras, toll collectors are an endangered species. I recently drove on a Colorado toll road that didn't have a single toll booth.

And while folks may scheme to cross other bridges, maybe the best approach would be to collect the toll far from the new bridge, on I-71, I-74 and I-75 just inside the I-275 beltway. That could encourage pure interstate travelers to drive around rather than through our city core. I for one would not miss all those trucks headed to Florida or Michigan on I-75.

But in an age when Congress can't agree to raise the gas tax from the 18 cents a gallon it's been stuck at for decades, to fund a rebuild for the crumbling interstate highway system we all use, it's time to get real. There's no such thing as a free trip across the Ohio River. Unless you swim.