FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Steel beams were delivered Tuesday morning in Frankfort for the Brent Spence Bridge repairs.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet shared a video showing the delivery of the beams. KYTC reports the beams were purchased Friday and come from four locations. According to the post, “Fabrication will take place at Bottoms Engineering & Services Inc. before going to the construction site.”
KYTC reports bridge repairs should begin next week. Governor Andy Beshear previously said he hopes to have the bridge reopened by December 23.
Special Delivery! Steel beams were delivered early this morning in Frankfort for the Brent Spence Bridge repairs. Fabrication will take place at Bottoms Engineering & Services Inc. before going to the construction site. #BSBUpdates pic.twitter.com/1GN7mNcBU6
— KYTC (@KYTC) November 17, 2020
CINCINNATI (Washington Post) – Tiyona Simpson looked down at her real-time traffic app with puzzlement. A purple line led her directly from the nearby airport, seemingly into the Ohio River, and then to her destination on Cincinnati’s west side.
The 39-year-old sales manager from Philadelphia stared quizzically at the map until someone explained that the main bridge was closed. Relieved she wouldn’t be driving into the river, Simpson joined a long line of other cars waiting for the ferry.
Scenes like this have played out frequently on the docks of the Anderson Ferry, a fixture on Cincinnati’s west side, since a fiery crash on Wednesday closed the Brent Spence Bridge. The closure has created a logistical nightmare for hundreds of thousands of vehicles that cross the river every week and reopened long-simmering political sparring about the span’s future.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Monday that after an exhaustive inspection, experts determined the bridge’s structural integrity survived the fire. Repairs will be made, and the bridge is expected to reopen on Dec. 23, Beshear said.
Rick Taylor, president of the Kentucky Trucking Association, said it’s good news that the bridge will be in service soon, but it’s just a Band-Aid. “The bridge needs to be replaced,” Taylor said.
The Brent Spence connects Kentucky and Ohio, drawing traffic from two interstate highways, I-75 and I-71, across its aging decks. In recent years, chunks of crumbling concrete have rained down from the double-deck bridge, which was declared functionally obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration in 1998. The fire sparked by last week’s crash burned for hours at temperatures as high as 1,500 degrees, well above the threshold to cause serious damage.
President Barack Obama visited the bridge in 2011 to propose a national infrastructure package that would include money for a replacement, a plan that later died in the Senate. President Trump weighed in on the bridge in an interview with a Cincinnati TV station shortly after he took office in 2017.
“I’ve already heard about the bridge. I love the area,” Trump said. “We’re going to get it fixed.”
But the bridge was never fixed. The cost to replace it is an estimated $2.5 billion, roughly the equivalent of Kentucky’s entire transportation budget for the year. The two states have wrestled over whether tolls should be used to pay for a replacement, a stance that has proved unpopular.
Meanwhile, concern has mounted about the bridge’s structural health and its effects on the economy. Gian A. Rassati, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, says the bridge’s functionally obsolete designation has more to do with design than structural integrity, adding that he has full confidence in the inspectors’ decisions on when to reopen.
“A bridge today would not have narrow lanes and narrow shoulders on each side. That is what makes it functionally obsolete,” Rassati says.
Mark Policinski, CEO of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, studied the Brent Spence Bridge’s deficiencies for 20 years.
“The fact that this bridge is down has an impact on our region and the nation,” Policinski said. “Even a disruption of weeks or months would be traumatic. We know already from our friends in the private sector how they are having to change plans and how this will increase costs.”
About 173,000 vehicles use the Brent Spence each day, including 30,000 trucks. The bridge was initially designed for 80,000 vehicles a day. OKI studies estimate 1 billion dollars a day in trade goes across that bridge, and over 400 billion a year, which includes finished, intermediate and raw goods.
In its current state, the bridge is a drag on commerce, Policinski says. In 2015, American Transportation Research Institute ranked Brent Spence as No. 7 on its list of top 10 traffic chokepoints in the country.
“It is one of the largest trade corridors in the United States, connecting not just Ohio to Kentucky, but Michigan to Miami,” Policinski says. Policinski says that it was pure luck that the crash happened at 2:45 a.m. vs. 2:45 p.m.
“Can you imagine the loss of life if it had happened during the day? Luck is a hell of a way to plan to build your future,” Policinski says. (No one was injured in last week’s crash.)
The Brent Spence Bridge has long been a source of angst for commuters in Cincinnati, many of whom avoid it altogether.
Heather York Radank, like many Greater Cincinnatians, will drive miles out of her way to not cross the Brent Spence. The 46-year-old event planner from Newport, Ky., is married to a musician, and the two often have to cross the river. Radank arms herself with the Waze app, local radio and online traffic maps to find a route she needs that doesn’t include the BSB, even if it means looping well out of the way.
“For me, the bridge might as well not exist because I just won’t go on it,” she says. Even when told that the bridge is structurally sound, Radank is unmoved.
Radank cites the narrow lanes, rush-hour traffic and speeding semis. The bridge wasn’t always such a tight squeeze. When the bridge was christened, it had three lanes in each direction with an emergency lane, which allowed for a bit more breathing room, but increased traffic over the years means every inch is taken up with lanes. Since the Brent Spence has closed, traffic has been routed to other bridges, putting a strain on those. The nearby Roebling Suspension Bridge, opened in 1866, had to be closed because too many trucks were using it as an alternative.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati commuters line up to take the Anderson Ferry across the Ohio River’s placid chocolate-colored waters. The quaint throwback boat, operating since 1817, is now a vital lifeline. Before the bridge closure, the ferry might have carried a car or two on any given time on a weekday. On Monday, it was filled to its 10-car capacity, with a line snaking up the hill, waiting for a chance to make the four-minute, $5 crossing.
Christian Plumley, 22, a pool construction worker from Pendleton County, Ky., was one of the people waiting nearby to cross into Ohio.
He was not optimistic the bridge would be fixed fast.
“Ohio and Kentucky need to work together on a replacement,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot longer to fix than they say.”
Rachel Roberts, a state legislator and Democrat representing a northern Kentucky district, says a federal appropriation is needed, but she agrees that states need to lead the way in solving the problem.
“Look, Mitch McConnell’s wife is Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, and they can’t get the new bridge built,” Roberts says. “So any solution is going to have come from the states.”