Short term safety measures announced for Brent Spence Bridge

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The first of several safety improvements has been made to the Brent Spence Bridge as short term attempts to improve safety.

Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young held a press conference on Thursday to announce the improvements.

The total cost of proposed projects totals 140,400 dollars.

A safety audit completed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Ohio Department of Transportation made several recommendations for simple, effective and cost efficient changes.

"I am pleased to see these results and by how well Kentucky and Ohio have been able to come together to get this done," Young shared.

The changes include:

  • Additional signage to announce the Covington 5th Street exit when coming southbound
    Cost= $200 per sign.

Young says currently if you miss the first sign it is nearly impossible to get over in time for the exit.

  • Four additional ARTIMIS cameras that will be installed on the bridge
    Cost = $44,000

Right now the ARTIMIS system cannot see the entire bridge. This will help warn drivers of slowing traffic as well as helping with emergency response times.

  • Light up 'watch for traffic' signs that warn drivers headed in both directions when traffic is stopped or slow
    Cost = $12,000

The sign will be connected to speed sensors in both directions. When traffic stops the LED lights will flash and warn drivers of an upcoming problem and give them time to slow down. Engineers stated that motorists that pass a warning sign that does not reflect accurate conditions 100% of the time, typically disregard the sign over time which makes the sensors even more important.

"There is no total solution until we can replace this bridge, but we know that's at least 20 years away," said Young.  "In the mean time I believe we must do all we can to make the bridge safer and  I'm satisfied to see that this has begun to happen."

Young also pointed out some changes that have already been made on the bridge, including 'tattooing' - or signs on the pavement which were added in May.

Until then, the obscured panel signs were the only indication to drivers they were in the right lane for their upcoming exit.

"With most of these accidents it's still going to be a matter of driver inattention," Young admitted. "But when you combine that with the physical issues of the bridge itself you can see how these accidents occur."

Young also mentioned the addition of a lane sign to clarify to drivers that they do not have to change lanes right away when entering onto the bridge from Covington. There is now also striping in that right lane going northbound as an additional reminder. Before, the striping was almost completely gone which caused confusion about merging as well as dangerous stopping and lane changing leading to side-swiping and rear-ending. The sign cost $200 dollars and the striping cost $500 dollars.

"By no stretch of the imagination are we trying to say, 'We've made the bridge safe,'" said Young. "Every expert I've talked to has made it very clear - that could not be done. At the same time, we think the things we have in mind are things that will make the bridge safer."

All recommendations were made used existing accident, speed, and volume data with the goal of reducing accidents.

The study showed crash rates for both north and southbound I-71/75 on bridge is higher than the average crash rate for urban interstates in both Ohio and Kentucky.

According to the study, rear-end collisions are the most frequent type of crash on the bridge. Authors wrote: "Rear-end collisions account for 75% of the injury collisions and the only fatality on the bridge in the past three years." Those collisions also contributed to 50% of the total accidents and are responsible for the fatality that occurred this year.

Young says the study shows speed did not appear to be a factor in collisions.

The study shows it is only in the mornings going southbound that speed exceed 55 mph. The rest of the time they are typically 40 and under.

Daily traffic on the bridge in 2009 was 167,386 vehicles per day split nearly equally between north and southbound traffic.

The study also showed accidents in the southbound direction are nearly twice that of the northbound direction. Southbound crash rates are almost five times the crash rate in Ohio and 3.5 times the crash rate in Kentucky on similar roadways.

The improvements on the bridge are being funded by a federal safety grant. They are expected to be complete by the end of next construction season. Young says that means the projects could be roughly a year away from completion.

Those next steps are under design and feasibility review. They will be installed after funding and environmental clearances are secure.  Young says the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet does not anticipate any problems with the funding.

Some measures suggested were not recommended by the committee, however. Such a measure included the possibility of closing the 4th/5th Street ramps in Covington. Vehicles that typically use the 4th and 5th Street ramps would be forced south to the12th Street exit. Engineers decided that exit may not have the capacity to handle the additional traffic therefore it was not recommended.

Other concerns that could not be addressed due to budget constraint include: ramp inadequacies, the vertical clearance of the northbound deck, and the absence of breakdown lanes, or shoulders on the bridge.

A recent study has called the Brent Spence Bridge the 15th most congested area in the country. It is also considered one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.

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