Through the years: Brent Spence Bridge’s decades-long history

Brent Spence Bridge's decade long history

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Discussions surrounding the condition of the Brent Spence Bridge are nothing new, much like the infrastructure itself. The fiery crash early Wednesday has sparked those talks once again.

Named after Kentucky’s longest-serving congressman at the time, the Brent Spence Bridge was completed in 1963.

The Brent Spence Bridge was designed to handle 80,000 cars a day when it opened, according to the Ohio Department of Transpiration’s Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project website.

Decades later in 2020, ODOT estimates an average of 160,000 cars per day.

That number is expected to reach 200,000 vehicles a day in the next 10 years.

In 1985, the emergency shoulders were eliminated, and the bridge was re-striped with four lanes in each direction to increase capacity by 33%. That move resulted in the bridge being deemed functionally obsolete.

Gov. Andy Beshear said after the crash the Brent Spence Bridge is an important artery for the nation.

“I want to underscore a few things. First, this is a very important bridge," Beshear stated. "Not just for the region, but for the nation, and we are committed fully to getting it back into service.”

As engineers work to determine if the bridge was compromised from the crash, conversations are being renewed about lowering the bridge’s load by constructing a second bridge beside it, the plan conventionally referred to as the Brent Spence’s “replacement.”

FOX19 Now asked Gov. Beshear that question during his Wednesday press conference.

“We’ll face that decision if and when it comes, but our full expectation right now is that it’s going to be repairable," Beshear answered. "It’s just how much time will it take to get there. We can’t not have a bridge at all there at the moment.”

Brent Cooper with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday’s crash serves as a reminder that it is time to find a permanent solution.

“We still don’t have a solution and it takes something like this to bring it up again," Cooper said. "We need to stop being reactive and start being proactive, let’s start building something and really prioritize transportation for our country again.”

In late September of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced several Greater Cincinnati counties are receiving $3.4 million in emergency relief dollars from the federal government for road and bridge repairs.

But none of it will go toward the Brent Spence Bridge, according to Sec. of Transportation Elaine Chao.

The problem, according to Chao, is Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana aren’t on the same page about what is needed and how it will be paid for. That makes the project far from ideal as a prospect for DOT funding.

“When community and states agree on a course of action, number one, that makes it easier on a course of action from us, the Department of Transportation,” Chao said. “Number two, when there is consensus and agreement on a project, it speaks to the much greater probability of success, success being defined as on budget and on schedule.”

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Beshear said the Brent Spence Bridge will be closed for several days at best.

On Thursday, FOX19 NOW’s Chris Riva spoke with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commence President, Brent Cooper, on the economic impact and the Northern Kentucky business perspective on the closure and the lack of a long-term solution for replacing the bridge:

Chris Riva - "Can you put a dollar amount to what a day of that bridge shut down means?

Brent Cooper - "I don’t have the latest stats in front of me on that. I will say, you know, I remember when we were talking about this six years ago, 700 Toyota trucks a day go across that bridge, there’s. Look at Kroger and Amazon and all of the distribution it has a tremendous impact. I don’t have the exact dollar figures in front of me.

Chris Riva - The conversation to replace the Brent Spence Bridge goes back into the 90s. The reality is we’re no closer to a solution.

Brent Cooper - "We’ve gone through multiple presidents, both parties. We’ve gone through multiple governors, both parties, we’ve gone through congressmen, Senators, state senators, state legislators, and a whole bunch of local officials. They’ve been talking about this for over two decades. I am beyond frustrated. I know everybody else is frustrated. It is time to come to a solution for this bridge. It’s a critical artery for our entire region. And it’s extremely frustrating.

Chris Riva - Speaking with a producer here at WXIX, He used the analogy of the bridge as a political football. All candidates bring it up, use it as a campaign topic, but then they kick the issue to the next election cycle.

Brent Cooper - “It’s a constant conversation topic during elections. But when it comes to the governing piece, we still have not a solution for this bridge. You know, and this is where we are, it’s dangerous. And this isn’t an isolated incident. This Brent Spence bridge corridor constantly has issues and accidents in delays. Remember, a couple of summers ago, three summers ago, when that bridge was shut down the two lanes and how everything in the region shut down. I-75 was a parking lot. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like? If this continues for weeks, where it’s completely shut down? You know, we are very, very concerned about our economy.”

Chris Riva - Plus the uncertainty of when the bridge will reopen will add to the economic impact.

Brent Cooper - “Nobody knows that this is going to be two days, three days, or three weeks. We don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have. But this is yet another example of why we need safe transportation we need a solution in place that’s going to improve safety and positively impact our daily lives. Again, you mentioned every single legislator that I know and transportation official has had this bridge as a top issue. It’s been in the top three in the country for years. And yet, we still don’t have a solution and it takes something like this, to bring it up again, we need to stop being reactive and start being proactive, let’s start building something and prioritize transportation for our country again. We’re encouraging elected officials at the state level. At the federal level. Everybody plays a role in this. We need everybody to come together and get this done. Let’s quit talking about it. And you know, right now the only thing that is is on the schedule for the Brent Spence Bridge is a paint job next month, there is no transportation funding for Kentucky right now for the Brent Spence Bridge, there’s no plan in place. How can that be after decades of this? This needs to change we need to get this brand spent which cord or built and done.”

Chris Riva - How has this accident put the issue of replacing the bridge a priority again?

Brent Cooper - "This has been a disaster waiting to happen. This is something that we’ve known could happen. The bridge has been structurally sound to this point. But it’s deficient. What we mean by that is you’ve got 160,000 vehicles a day going across a bridge to interstates, actually two interstates coming together eight lanes going to four lanes. It’s been a problem for years, and it’s time to get it fixed.

Chris Riva - "Thanks Brent, is there anything else you would like to mention?

Brent Cooper - "Chris we have to start investing in infrastructure in the state of Kentucky and throughout this country. The gas tax has not been raised at the federal level since 1993. That’s a year after we started talking about this bridge as a priority. That’s how long we’ve been talking about it. And this isn’t about tolling at this point. It’s about our safety. It’s about our quality of life. We have to get this thing addressed. And again, it’s bigger than the Brent Spence, we’ve got the Fourth Street Bridge in Covington, we got 536. Going through our counties in the southern part of Northern Kentucky. We have issues at the airport, we got to invest in infrastructure. This is bigger than just the bridge. And the domino effect that this bridge has, as soon as it shuts down. Everything else comes to a crawl. And now we’re talking about safety issues on the Roebling Suspension Bridge, our signature bridge because trucks and a lot more vehicles are going across that now. This is why the Brent Spence Bridge matters to everybody. And we have to start prioritizing infrastructure as a nation.

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