Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Oh say, can you see?

Maybe not, if bridge funds dry up

        The Gulf War ended 10 years ago today. The occasion should be marked locally by some very public flag waving.

        Unfortunately, Old Glory hangs in red-white-and-blue tatters atop the Cincinnati side of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.

        The shredded Stars and Stripes is a shape of things to come.

        Unless we ante up, the flags on the bridge's north and south piers will disappear. The bridge that spans the Ohio and proudly stands with the Alamo and Empire State Building in the National Register of Historic Places will go dark.

        At present, donations keep the flags flying and light bulbs glowing to illuminate the bridge's nighttime profile. Those funds are running low.

[photo] The American flag on the Ohio side of the Roebling Suspension Bridge has seen better days. Funds are running out to illuminate the bridge's night-time profile and keep the American flags flying on the historic span.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        “We are at a crossroads,” said Gerry Roberto, a civil engineer and president of the all-volunteer Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee. “The $80,000 we have left will soon be depleted.”

        Lighting the bridge and keeping it decked out in flags costs $20,000 a year — $15,000 to maintain the lights, $5,000 for the flags. The state of Kentucky picks up the bridge's annual $8,000 electric bill.

        At this rate, the committee won't be able to afford to fly a shredded flag from the bridge's 40-foot poles when it comes time to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Gulf War's end.

        Four flags fly from the bridge. The north pier displays a 50-star American flag and Ohio's state pennant. The south pier features Kentucky's state colors topped by America's official bicentennial flag with a “76” in the center and 13 stars for the original colonies.

        The flags are huge. Both Stars and Stripes measure 8 by 12 feet. The state flags run 4 by 12.

        Flags don't last long atop the bridge.

    To keep the Suspension Bridge's flags waving and lights on, send donations to: The Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee Inc., P.O. Box 17777, Covington, KY 41017-0777. Contributions are tax-deductible.
    Annual membership dues to join the all-volunteer committee start at $12. For information, call 231-3147.
        “Standard flags rip apart in a week,” Gerry Roberto said. “Our custom-made nylon models are specially stitched for added wear and they don't last more than three months. The only thing that would last longer is if we could make the flag out of chain-link fence.”

        Bob Armstrong, an industrial engineer, heads the committee's maintenance team. He works with firms to replace both flags and lights. And, he regularly climbs the steps clinging to the bridge's piers.

        “The flags on the Covington side take more of a beating,” he said. “That end of the bridge sits at the bend in the river where it's windier.”

        The flags are inspected and replaced four times a year. Two inspection and replacement times are “set in stone,” Bob told me.

        “One takes place before Flag Day. The other occurs right before the Riverfest fireworks on Labor Day.”

        The other two inspections take place weather permitting.

        In late January, the weather permitted. But not the supply of flags.

        “We replaced the flags on the Kentucky side,” Bob said. “The flags on the north side needed replacing, too. But we ran out of 50-star flags and had to order more. They take three, four weeks to make. New ones should be here any day.”

        New funds in the committee's coffers are not as forthcoming. Gerry Roberto dreams of a corporation taking over the lights. He estimates a $230,000 contribution would establish a trust “to keep the lights on at night in perpetuity.” He thinks a second trust of $100,000 would keep the flags flying forever.

        The Suspension Bridge is Greater Cincinnati's most prominent and picturesque gateway. Its curves are graceful, its cables sturdy enough to handle 13,300 cars a day.

        Designed by John A. Roebling, it is the mother of his famous Brooklyn Bridge

        Officially opened on Jan. 1, 1867, the Suspension Bridge links Cincinnati and Covington, Ohio and Kentucky, north and south.

        Both sides of the river have been well served by this bridge. Now, it needs some help.

        Companies using the landmark in their logos, corporate communications and commercials don't pay royalties to the bridge. But they benefit from it. They can say thanks with a check to pay for some lights and flags.

        The Bengals and the Reds are the bridge's neighbors. Here's a chance for the teams to give something back to the community for a change.

        They could pick up the tab for the bridge's trust funds — $330,000 for lights and flags in perpetuity costs a lot less than the services of a running back or a starting pitcher for a year.

        There is no toll to walk or ride across this structure. Any pedestrian or passenger using this span should spare some change for the Suspension Bridge.

        That's the least we can do to keep the lights lit and the flags flying.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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