The Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Brent Spence Bridge was first envisioned as a high speed highway crossing of the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky. Several alignments were studied, including one route parallel to the Cincinnati Southern Bridge in Ludlow. 1
In April 1956, a site at the mouth of Willow Creek in Covington was chosen for the bridge site after regional and state highway and political officials came to an agreement on the location. 9 The new crossing, which would include three travel lanes in each direction, either a single or dual deck, and a cantilever truss or suspension design, was projected to cost $12.57 million and take two years to construct.
The federal Bureau of Public Roads gave final approval of the alignment in October. A dual deck cantilever truss bridge design was later chosen with final design work completed in 1959. 7 A sketch of the proposed crossing was published in the July 9, 1960 edition of the Kentucky Post. 9
Construction of the new river crossing began in January 1961 but all work was halted shortly after because of the discovery of an underground water line next to one of the proposed piers. 9 Construction resumed in February and the Kentucky approach piers were finished by March. Bids for the Kentucky approach superstructure were let in January 1962.
On November 20, 1963, with just days to go until opening, the Kentucky Post reported that the new highway bridge would be named for former Kentucky Congressman Brent Spence. 9 The lifelong Fort Thomas resident had served in Congress for 32 years and was a strong proponent for the bridge’s completion.
The new Brent Spence Bridge opened to Interstate 75 traffic on November 25, 1963. 1 9 18 In 1970, Interstate 71 was completed between Louisville and Interstate 75, and the highway was co-signed with Interstate 75 over the Ohio River. 1
Tremendous suburban residential growth south and north of Cincinnati, coupled with multitudes of commercial and industrial development, led to rapid traffic growth on the bridge. In 1986, the bridge approaches, which were two lanes in each direction, were widened to three lanes and the shoulder on the main span was eliminated to provide four through lanes. 4 The traffic lanes were also narrowed from 12-feet to 11-feet. 26
In early 1990, work to repaint the bridge began but in August, air pollution monitors detected high levels of lead in the air as the result of sandblasting efforts to remove the old paint. 6 The state purchased special steel netting to catch the paint from drifting into the city. 4
The original cost estimate to repaint the bridge had ballooned from $3.5 million 5 to $5.9 million 6 by the time the project had concluded in July 1991. 4 Crews were then ordered by state environmental inspectors to excavate up to 32 tons of lead-contaminated sandblast debris that workers had buried a year prior in temporary pits southwest of the Jefferson Avenue interchange and at Ninth Street and Willow Run. The state later paid a $20,000 fine for violating environmental regulations.
At 2:45 a.m. on November 11, 2020, a tractor-trailer jackknifed in the northbound lanes of the bridge. 39 Another semi, hauling 110 pounds of potassium hydroxide, hit that truck and burst into flames because of diesel fuel spillage. 39 40 The fire raged at up to 1,500° Fahrenheit. 40
The Brent Spence Bridge was immediately closed and all traffic was routed onto Interstates 275 and 471. 40
A contract for repairs to the bridge was let on November 16, which includes the replacement of the steel stringers, concrete deck, and barriers on the upper deck, and the replacement of the top layer of the concrete deck, and the replacement of the barriers on the lower deck. 41
A report released by American Consulting Engineers of Lexington, Kentucky in 1995 concluded that the Brent Spence Bridge should be replaced by 2007. 7 The report noted that the crossing was carrying heavier trucks than what existed when the bridge opened and that it was approaching gridlock. The bridge was designed for 75,000 vehicles per day (VPD) but progressively carried more traffic with each passing year: 139,000 VPD in 1991, 7 148,614 VPD in 2003, 8 and 150,000 VPD in 2008. 10 Additionally, the bridge had one of the highest crash rates of any major crossing, with 22.8 wrecks per lane mile between 1995 and 2003. 1 7
Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments released a similar report in 1999 that the bridge would last another 15 to 20 years and would require either significant rehabilitation or replacement. 2 Another contractor, Burgess & Niple, however, refuted that the bridge was not suffering from any ill effects. Additionally, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) countered that the bridge could hold its current traffic load as long as the crossing was properly maintained over the next 16 years. 28
Toward the goal of fixing the Brent Spence Bridge, Congress authorized $45.6 million to study alternatives for a replacement or a supplemental span in July 2005. 25 By April 2007, five alternatives were being considered. 19 20 24 The least expensive proposal was a hybrid of two alternatives that would require property acquisition valued between $25.8 million and $28.5 million. The most expensive alternative was the most expensive that would require property acquisition valued between $45.3 million and $48.5 million. 21 All proposals directly impacted a nationally registered historic district. 19
Funding the replacement interstate bridge was non-existent, and even with heavy state contributions, it was long surmised that tolls would be required. 14 Kentucky State Representative Arnold Simpson called the proposed toll an “urban bridge tax,” citing the then proposed tolling options for the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville. He was the only dissenting vote, as a House committee overwhelmingly passed a bill, 25-1, that would establish a statewide financing authority that could borrow money and levy tolls to pay for large infrastructure projects. 16
By December, the estimated cost of a new Brent Spence Bridge had risen to $3 billion 10 from $1 billion in 2005. 27 The new estimates were adjusted for inflation over the life of the project set at nine years, whereas the old estimates were based on the value of the dollar when the estimates were made. 23 The new estimates also took into account the project scope’s increase, the skyrocketing cost of concrete and steel, and the higher cost of fuel.
It was estimated that the states of Kentucky and Ohio would need to chip in $600 million each toward the construction costs. 10 13 Additionally, Covington leaders desired a bridge to touch down between 5th and 9th Streets whereas Cincinnati leaders wanted to avoid cutting into Queensgate and desired a footprint as minimal as possible. 13
Officials also noted that while early discussions on the Brent Spence Bridge revolved around the replacement of the existing span, the existing crossing was in reasonably good condition and still had 60 years of life remaining. 11 A new parallel span, constructed immediately west of the existing bridge, could slash the project’s cost, expedite its construction and protect economic interests on both sides of the river.
On April 20, 2006, the Brent Spence Bridge Advisory Committee, formed by transportation officials from Kentucky and Ohio, unveiled its final conceptual proposal for the Brent Spence Bridge project that called for a new bridge to be built immediately west of the existing structure. 30 31 Under the proposal, the Brent Spence would carry Interstate 71 and local traffic, would the new crossing would carry Interstate 75. 31 The project would affect the former Harriet Beecher Stowe School building and Longworth Hall in Cincinnati, 31 and Goebel Park in Covington. 35
The proposal was updated in 2010 to include just a single double-deck bridge with both arch and cable-stayed designs. 38 The top deck would carry six lanes for Interstate 75 while the lower lanes would carry traffic for Interstate 71 and downtown Cincinnati.
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: Interstate 71, Interstate 75
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,736 feet
- Main Span Length: 831 feet
- Deck Width: 92 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 14.9 feet
- “I-71/75 Brent Spence Bridge.” Cincinnati Transit 2007. 10 May 2005Article.
- Brent Spence Bridge. Parsons Quade & Douglas 2005. 10 Dec. 2005 Article.
- Dias, Monica. “Highway engineer witnessed changes in design, attitudes.” Kentucky Post 6 July 1990. 19 Nov. 2007: 2K.
- Dias, Monica. “Done at least 75.” Kentucky Post 20 Aug. 1994. 19 Nov. 2007: 1K.
- Dias, Monica. “The awful truth: I-75’s ‘inconvenience’ is near.” Kentucky Post 4 May 1990. 19 Nov. 2007: 1K.
- “Blasting done but bridge work on I-75 goes on.” Kentucky Post 29 Apr. 1991. 19 Nov. 2007: 3K.
- Dias, Monica. “Traffic, weight strain I-75 bridge.” Kentucky Post 8 Dec. 1995. 26 Nov. 2007: 1K.
- “Traffic Counts and Count Stations.” Kentucky Transportation Cabinet 2007. 26 Nov. 2007 Map.
- Reis, Jim. “Crossing the Ohio.” Kentucky Post 15 Dec. 3003. 26 Nov. 2007: 5K.
- “Toll idea refuses to die.” Cincinnati Enquirer 8 Feb. 2009. 24 Feb. 2009.
- 9, Barry M. “Answers on bridge en route.” Cincinnati Enquirer 19 Jan. 2009. 24 Feb. 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “Officials: Speed Brent Spence work.” Kentucky Enquirer 9 Oct. 2008. 24 Feb. 2009.
- “Officials: Build adjacent bridge.” Cincinnati Enquirer 13 Dec. 2008. 24 Feb. 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “It’s an ‘urban bridge tax’.” Kentucky Enquirer 1 July 2008. 24 Feb. 2009.
- McGurk, Margaret A. “List of new routes for Brent Spence delayed.” Cincinnati Enquirer 23 Feb. 2008. 24 Feb. 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “House passes bridge bill.” Cincinnati Enquirer 6 March 2008. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Bridge crash rate high.” Kentucky Enquirer 15 Sept. 2007. 24 Feb. 2009.
- Truong, Quan. “Brent Spence sound, but obsolete.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 Aug. 2007. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Duke, Kerry. “Bridge work options disruptive.” Cincinnati Post 3 April 2007. 25 Feb. 2009.
- “Property needed.” Cincinnati Post 3 April 2007. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Eigelbach, Kevin. “Bridge options need land.” Cincinnati Post 11 April 2007. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Duke, Kerry. “Toll option for Brent Spence studied.” Cincinnati Post 9 Sept. 2006. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Duke, Kerry. “Brent Spence price tag doubles.” Cincinnati Post 29 Sept. 2006. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Brent Spence plans presented.” Cincinnati Enquirer 24 March 2006. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Rulon, Malia. “$45M for bridge study OK’d.” Cincinnati Enquirer 24 March 2006. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Driehaus, Bob. “Bridge will be one of a kind.” Cincinnati Post 7 Oct. 2005. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Klepal, Dan. “I-71/75 bridge replacement cost tops $1B.” Cincinnati Enquirer 18 June 2005. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Pilcher, James. “.” Cincinnati Enquirer 9 Jan. 2005. 25 Feb. 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “Brent Spence may bring in $800M.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 March 2009. 2 March 2009.
- Horstman, Barry M. “New bridge next to Brent Spence?” Cincinnati Enquirer 18 April 2009. 2 May 2009.
- Horstman, Barry M. “Bridge near Brent Spence in 2015?” Cincinnati Enquirer 21 April 2009. 2 May 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “Bridge to costs states $160 million.” Kentucky Post 6 Sept. 2009. 9 Sept. 2009.
- Monk, Dan. “New Brent Spence Bridge pay plan floated.” Cincinnati Business Courier 22 July 2011. 27 Sept. 2011 Article.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Design funds for bridge project won’t be missed, for now.” Cincinnati Enquirer 24 March 2011. 27 Sept. 2011.
- Wartman, Scott. “New bridge would mean big changes to Goebel Park.” Kentucky Post 25 Oct. 2010. 27 Sept. 2011.
- Horstman, Barry M. “2011 a big year for Brent Spence plans.”Cincinnati Enquirer 18 Dec. 2010. 27 Sept. 2011.
- Benschoten, Amanda Van. “Brent Spence a ‘mess’.” Cincinnati Enquirer 24 Sept. 2010. 27 Sept. 2011.
- Horstman, Barry M. “Brent Spence Bridge designs narrowed to six.” Cincinnati Enquirer 1 Feb. 2010. 28 Sept. 2011.
- “Beshear: Brent Spence Bridge to be closed for days if not longer after truck fire.” WKRC, 11 Nov. 2020.
- Staley, Crystal and Sebastian Kitchen. “Gov. Beshear Updates Kentuckians on Brent Spence Bridge Crash, Fire.” Office of the Governor, 11 Nov. 2020.
- Repair Plan Diagrams, Michael Baker International.