Friday, July 27, 2001

Bridge study may start early

Replacement could take up to 15 years

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The process of replacing the Brent Spence Bridge, one of the Tristate's most important pieces of infrastructure, could begin four years ahead of schedule.

        The U.S. Senate is close to approving a bill that includes $2 million for a preliminary study of how to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, the span that carries Interstates 71/75 and is the main link between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

[photo] The Brent Spence Bridge carries up to 140,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River.
(File photo)
| ZOOM |
        Engineers believe the bridge needs to be replaced because it can't handle the traffic now and in the future.

        “There certainly is a lot of interest in Cincinnati as well as Kentucky,” said Judi Craig of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. “And sooner is better than later for the concerns at the local level.”

        The money would allow highway officials from both Ohio and Kentucky to begin studying the bridge early next year.

        Originally, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's plan was to begin studying the bridge and how to replace or improve it in 2006.

        But with so many other projects dependent on what happens to the bridge — such as the expansion of Cincinnati's convention center, the realignment of Interstate 75 and proposed development on the riverfronts in both Cincinnati and Covington — OKI spearheaded an effort to advance the process.

        “The bridge is the hinge pin of the entire region,” said John Deatrick, Cincinnati transportation director and chairman of the OKI subcommittee studying the bridge. “What happens with it not only impacts Cincinnati, but the entire region, and, given the importance of I-75 as a freight corridor, the entire country.”

   Opened: Nov. 25, 1963, with dedication ceremonies delayed due to the assassination and funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
   Original capacity: 80,000 vehicles daily.
   Original cost: $10 million.
   Length: 1,736 feet.
   Lanes: Four each way.
   Current traffic loads: approximately 140,000 vehicles daily.
   Estimated loads in 2030: 180,000 daily.
   Named for: Newport native Brent Spence (1874-1967), congressman for 32 years.

        The grant is part of the federal transportation funding bill that is being held up in the Senate because of a dispute over whether Mexican trucks should be allowed to use U.S. highways.

        But local transportation officials say they feel the money for the bridge study is safe, no matter what the outcome of the trucking dispute. The grant would fund 80 percent of the study, which officials hope would take two years.

        Ohio and Kentucky, which actually owns and maintains the bridge, would have to raise $400,000, with OKI allocating another $1.7 million in Northern Kentucky planning funds for the project next July.

        From start to finish, building a new bridge while keeping traffic open on the Brent Spence could take at least 15 years, and cost as much as $500 million, depending on the size and style of the new span, Ms. Craig said.

        The study would look at the needed capacity of a new bridge, where it should be built, how it should look, and how to keep traffic flowing during construction, Ms. Craig said.

        The current bridge is structurally sound, but routinely sees as many as 140,000 vehicles daily, with some projections predicting 180,000 to 190,000 vehicles would come through downtown in 2030.

        The bridge is “still safe,” said Mike Hancock, deputy state engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “This (study) will allow us to address all options in the best possible manner.”


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