The John A. Roebling Bridge is a historic wire suspension bridge across the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Roebling Suspension Bridge was first proposed in an 1849 charter issued by the state of Ohio as a connection between Cincinnati, then one of the largest cities in the United States, and northern Kentucky, a collective of burgeoning cities. 1 The proposed Cincinnati-Covington Bridge was required to have no piers in the river, a total main span length of 1,400 feet and a deck clearance of 112 feet. John A. Roebling proposed a suspension bridge that would rival that of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
While many Covington residents advocated for a bridge to connect to the more industrious north, going as far as to align their street grid to match Cincinnati’s in 1815, Cincinnati wanted nothing to do with the span. 20 Others feared the bridge would ruin commerce along the river while others wondered if slaves would use the bridge to escape the south.
Adding to the skepticism of the proposed bridge was the collapse of two smaller suspension spans, both of which were not designed by Roebling. 20 Another rationale against the construction was the recession of 1857, along with the Civil War and material shortages.
Construction on the suspension bridge did not begin until fall 1856. 2 By that point, the length of the span was reduced to 1,000 feet and the deck clearance was lowered to 100 feet. 1 It took a decade to complete the bridge due to periodic interruptions from the Civil War and financial difficulties. In addition, a pier near the Ohio shore posed problems that required months to repair. 20
The new Covington-Cincinnati Bridge opened to pedestrians on December 1, 1866. 1 2 The 1,057-foot crossing was the longest in the world. It also boasted 281-foot side spans, a 341-foot approach ramp in Cincinnati, a 292-foot approach ramp in Covington, and massive masonry towers of 75 feet in height. The tan painted bridge opened to all other traffic in January with a toll.
The design of the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge was used as a model for Roebling’s next project: the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
In 1896, the bridge was painted a light blue color. 10 It was substantially rebuilt in 1899 over concerns with the deck truss and the usage of inferior iron and oak deck plankings. The cheaper goods were used as a result of inflation after the Civil War that would have otherwise made the construction project infeasible. 3 The project was undertaken under the direction of Wilhelm Hildenbrand.
In 1963, the toll booths were removed in conjunction with the opening of the Interstate 71 and Interstate 75 Brent Spence Bridge. 10 The Covington-Cincinnati Bridge was closed for extensive repairs in 1969 and was repainted in a light blue color in 1978. 4
In the early 1980’s, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee was formed to preserve and enhance the crossing with private financing. 6 The group funded its first project in 1984, installing “necklace” lighting to accentuate the cables at a cost of $220,000. They also restored the bridge’s spires and painted them with gold leaf at a cost of $60,000, which the state of Kentucky later absorbed. In addition, the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge was renamed after Roebling, the original designer of the span. 1
In 1996, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) completed $10 million worth of repairs to the Roebling Bridge in an effort to restore the service life on the span. 8
The KYTC awarded a $6 million contract in 1998 to paint the bridge but work was never started due to construction relating to the Interstate 71’s Fort Washington Way project in Ohio. 4 In 2001, the Covington City Commission adopted a resolution to have the bridge painted “Kentucky Wildcat blue,” although others lobbied for a light brown or Spanish brown color. 5 An unscientific survey of bridge walkers in 2002 found that verdigris, a shade of green that is tinted to blue, was favored. The KYTC found that the sandstone-tan color was more historic.
In 2005, the KYTC allocated $7 million towards the repainting of the span and commenced on a $1.2 million project to repair the sidewalks and do structural improvements to the bridge. 5 In October, KYTC announced that the color of the repainted span would be verdigris. 7
The Roebling Bridge was closed for $3.1 million in extensive structural and electrical repairs for an estimated 5½ months on November 17, 2006. 11 The cost had escalated from an original estimate of 2.83 million. 8 Work included replacing suspension rods, floor beams, asphalt sidewalks and writing. 9 A provision was made to repaint the bridge although this did not occur.
The span reopened to traffic in the end of March 2007 nearly one month ahead of schedule. 12 There was a push by the Covington city council to ban buses operated by Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) from using the Roebling Bridge. 13 The city had requested that the current weight limit of 22 tons be reduced due to damage the buses were causing to the 135-year-old crossing. The KYTC, working with the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, performed a structural study of the bridge to determine an acceptable weight limit. 14
TANK, in response, noted that 19 of the bus system’s 26 routes cross the Roebling to downtown Cincinnati and that using alternate routes would add at least $400,000 in costs to TANK’s operating cost every year. 13 On September 11, 2007, KYTC reduced the weight limit on the bridge to 11 tons. 15
Repainting of the bridge was scheduled to begin in April 2007, although this was pushed up to April 2008. 16 In February 2008, the KYTC announced that no funding had been allocated for the painting of the Roebling and that the project was delayed by two years.
In April, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee announced that it was beginning a fundraising drive of $350,000 to install new electric lines and light fixtures. 17 The lighting system was frequently shorting out due to its age. On January 11, 2009, the the committee proposed using multi-color, energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LED), and raised its fundraising drive to $450,000 in preparation. 18
The Committee soon backed down from the multi-color effect after meeting resistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, who stated that the multi-color LED lights would be a navigational hazard to freight traffic along the Ohio River that depend on red and green hues to navigate the waterway safely. 19 The committee instead proposed using white-hued LED lights. The obsolete lights were turned off on April 1, 2009 in anticipation of the bridge painting project. 18
KYTC closed the bridge on April 7, 2010 for the repainting project. 21 It reopened to traffic in November.