150-year-old Purple People Bridge gets badly needed money for repairs

The bridge closed for six months last year due to a large stone that fell from the north pier.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:21 PM EDT
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CAMPBELL COUNTY, Ky. (WXIX) - The Newport Southbank Bridge, more commonly known as the Purple People Bridge, will get some badly needed repairs in the coming months thanks to a state grant.

Ky. Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday announced the grant awarding $175,000 to the City of Newport from the Kentucky Department for Local Government’s Recreational Trails Program, which disburses funds funds from the Federal Highway Administration.

An additional $200,000 will go to Newport Festival Park to construct a play area and provide ADA access. Alexandria Community Park will receive $31,000 to replace the current picnic shelter with a shelter twice as large.

“Kentucky families deserve safe and fun outdoor spaces where they can stay healthy, get fresh air and spend time with their loved ones,” Beshear said. “As a dad—and as Governor—I know we can build a better Kentucky by investing in our infrastructure, especially the structures that benefit our kids. The Purple People Bridge, Festival Park and Alexandria Community Park are all huge assets to the Campbell County community and I am proud to present this funding to help make them even better.”

The bridge money will go toward repairs on the sandstone piers and maintenance of the expansion joints between the bridge sections. Other upgrades will include improving electric and water service, enhancing the bridge deck through the stripping of former roadway markings and resurfacing the blacktop approaches.

“The Purple People Bridge is an extremely important connector for the entire region,” Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. said. “We wish to thank Gov. Beshear and the state of Kentucky for this much-needed grant. It is vital funding that will go toward supporting and maintaining this historic regional asset.”

The bridge closed temporarily in May 2021 after a piece of the sandstone pier on the Ohio side fell into the river. The Kentucky side of the bridge reopened in July, and the full bridge reopened in November thanks to the temporary fix of a steel beam that stretches across the problematic pier.

The cost for the temporary repairs was $350,000. Funds were sourced from the Devou Good Foundation and various other donors.

Bridge officials said at the time permanent repairs would likely happen in spring 2022. They also said they desired to repaint the bridge in 2022 at a cost of around $1.5 million. It was last painted in 1992.

“On behalf of the Bridge Company, and all of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati, we thank Governor Beshear for his support of the Purple People Bridge,” Newport Southbank Bridge Company President Will Weber said Tuesday. “This grant will fund much needed maintenance and upgrades on the Purple People Bridge. It also provides a reminder of the commitment to promoting tourism, economic development and community enhancements in the commonwealth.”

Rail traffic ceased across the 150-year-old bridge in 2001. A $4 million effort completed in 2006 repurposed the bridge into a pedestrian walkway.

It is the only one of the region’s nine Ohio River bridges to be reserved exclusively for pedestrian traffic and is currently the longest inter-state pedestrian bridge in the country. Nearly one million people cross it every year.

The bridge is as much an amenity as a method of transit. It’s wide enough for festivals and events, and it’s outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, call boxes and trashcans.

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