Brent Spence Bridge project: ‘Urgent need’ for action now, chambers unite

Brent Spence Bridge
Brent Spence Bridge(WXIX)
Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 9:31 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19/CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Saying there is an “urgent need” for federal and state action to revitalize infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge, local and national business leaders are joining forces.

“It’s time to stop talking and start acting,” reads a news release on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Chamber, Cincinnati Chamber, Northern Kentucky Chamber and Ohio Chamber.

The group is releasing a new ad that calls on Congress to pass an infrastructure bill that includes funding for the bridge, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Brent Spence Bridge named in top five ‘infrastructure emergencies’ | Northern Kentucky lawmaker hopes gas tax could fund state infrastructure projects

The Brent Spence Bridge is a vital component of our national highway system and one of its busiest.

A project to alleviate congestion on the bridge that includes building a new one alongside the existing one is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion.

This new bridge would not replace the current one. It would help increase traffic capacity, according to the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor website, from the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

How to pay for the new bridge and related improvements for several miles of the highway leading to and from the bridge, however, is a longtime debate that continues today in Kentucky and Ohio.

It received renewed interest when a fiery crash shut down the bridge for six weeks late last year, forcing semi tractor-trailers and other vehicles onto other routes that led to semis damaging primary roads in Covington, city leaders there have said.

[ Before and after: Fire and Brent Spence Bridge Damage (video) ]

The most controversial payment option to pay for the Brent Spence project uses tolls, which Ohio leaders support while Kentucky ones historically have not.

Former Gov. Matt Bevin signed a bill in 2016 prohibiting tolls on any new bridge linking Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati across the Ohio River.

A Northern Kentucky lawmaker, Boone County Rep. Sal Santoro, is now pushing a possible state gas tax increase by no more than 10 cents a gallon to help pay for much-needed upgrades and infrastructure repairs.

Covington city leaders, meanwhile, stepped up ways to make it safer for drivers to get on the interstate since the crash closed the bridge last year.

Texas Turnaround coming to 4th Street ramp in Covington

If something like that should ever happen again, Covington’s mayor has said the city’s infrastructure would be unable to handle the load.

Under the current overall concept of the Brent Spence Bridge plan, a toll could force 77,000 vehicles a day off the bridge as drivers try to avoid paying it, Kentucky state officials have said.

The Brent Spence carries both Interstate 75 and I-71 traffic through the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area, but it also connects 10 states (including Kentucky and Ohio) from as far north as Michigan to as far south as Florida.

More than 163,000 vehicles drive daily on the bridge across the Ohio River, connecting downtown Cincinnati to northern Covington, more than $1 billion in freight daily and more than $400 billion worth of freight annually, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

The bridge opened in 1963 with six lanes divided among two driving decks, but renovations in 1986 eliminated the emergency lanes to widen the bridge to four lanes on each deck.

By 1998, however, the bridge was listed as “functionally obsolete” by the National Bridge Inventory, due in large part to limited visibility and safety concerns.

Last week, state transportation officials announced a project to clean and paint the bridge will begin March 1 and end by Nov. 15.

The bridge was last painted three decades ago, in 1991.

Crews also will do some routine maintenance including drainage work and sign repairs.

The bridge will remain open with some lane and ramp closures:

  • Two northbound left lanes
  • 4th Street on-ramp to Interstate 71/75 northbound in Covington
  • Two southbound right lanes
  • I-71 southbound on-ramp from Fort Washington Way
  • Third Street on-ramp in downtown Cincinnati to I-71 southbound

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Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved. The Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this report.