The Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Brent Spence Bridge was originally planned as a high-speed highway crossing of the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky. There were several different alignments considered, including one that would have been parallel to the Cincinnati Southern Bridge in Ludlow. 1
In April 1956, a decision was made to build the bridge at the mouth of Willow Creek in Covington. 9 This location was chosen after regional and state highway and political officials agreed on the site. The new bridge was expected to cost $12.57 million and take two years to construct. It would have three travel lanes in each direction, either a single or dual deck, and a cantilever truss or suspension design.
In October, the federal Bureau of Public Roads gave final approval of the alignment. 7 A dual deck cantilever truss bridge design was ultimately chosen, with final design work completed in 1959.
Construction of the new river crossing began in January 1961, but work was halted shortly after due to 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 Spence, a 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 were widened to three lanes in each direction. 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. 6 However, in August, air pollution monitors detected high levels of lead in the air as the result of sandblasting efforts to remove the old paint. 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.
On November 11, 2020 at 2:45 a.m., a tractor-trailer jackknifed in the northbound lanes of the Brent Spence Bridge. 39 Another semi, hauling 110 pounds of potassium hydroxide, hit the jackknifed truck and burst into flames due to diesel fuel spillage. 39 40 The fire reached temperatures of up to 1,500° Fahrenheit. 40
As a result, the Brent Spence Bridge was immediately closed, and all traffic was redirected onto Interstates 275 and 471. 40
On November 16, a contract for repairs to the bridge was awarded. 41 The work included the replacement of the steel stringers, concrete deck, and barriers on the upper deck, as well as the replacement of the top layer of the concrete deck and the barriers on the lower deck. The repairs were completed on December 22, under budget and on time. 42
On March 1, 2021, a routine maintenance project began on the Brent Spence Bridge. The project involved cleaning and painting the superstructure. 43 This project was completed ahead of schedule on November 15.
In 1995, a report by American Consulting Engineers concluded that the Brent Spence Bridge should be replaced by 2007 due to heavy truck traffic and increasing congestion. 7 At the time, the bridge was designed for 75,000 vehicles per day, but by 1991, it was carrying 139,000 VPD, 7 148,614 VPD by 2003, 8 and over 150,000 vehicles per day by 2008. 10 The report also noted that the bridge had a high rate of accidents, with 22.8 wrecks per lane mile between 1995 and 2003. 1 7
In 1999, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments released a similar report stating that the bridge would need significant rehabilitation or replacement in 15 to 20 years. 2 However, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Ohio Department of Transportation argued that the bridge could continue to handle its current traffic load with proper maintenance, as it still had 60 years of service life remaining. 11 28
To improve the Brent Spence Bridge corridor, Congress authorized $45.6 million in 2005 to study alternatives for replacing the bridge or adding a supplemental span. 25 By 2007, five options were being considered, ranging in cost from $25.8 million to $48.5 million for property acquisition. 19 20 21 24 All of the options would impact a nationally registered historic district and cost over $1 billion to construct. 19 27
Funding for any of the options was lacking, and even with contributions from Kentucky and Ohio, tolls would likely be required, with both states needing to contribute $600 million towards construction costs. 10 13 14 The proposed tolls were met with opposition, with Kentucky State Representative Arnold Simpson calling them an “urban bridge tax.” Despite this, a House committee passed a bill establishing a financing authority that could borrow money and levy tolls for large infrastructure projects, with Simpson casting the only dissenting vote. 16
By December, the estimated cost of either a new Brent Spence Bridge or a supplemental span had risen to $3 billion. 10 This was due to several factors, including the adjustment for inflation over the project’s nine-year life. 23 The old estimates were based on the value of the dollar when they were made, but the new estimates also took into account the increased project scope, higher costs for concrete and steel, and increased fuel costs.
On April 20, 2006, the Brent Spence Bridge Advisory Committee, which transportation officials formed from Kentucky and Ohio, unveiled its conceptual proposal for the Brent Spence Bridge project. 30 31 The proposal called for a new bridge to be built immediately west of the Brent Spence Bridge. Under this proposal, the Brent Spence would carry Interstate 71 and local traffic, while the new crossing would carry Interstate 75. 31 The project would impact the former Harriet Beecher Stowe School building and Longworth Hall in Cincinnati, 31 as well as Goebel Park in Covington. 35
In 2010, the proposal was updated to include a new dual-deck bridge with 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, with the Brent Spence Bridge reconfigured for local traffic. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved this plan in 2012. 45
Following this, the Brent Spence Bridge Advisory Committee evolved into the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, which the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Ohio Department of Transportation headed. The scope of this project was refined to include the improvement of eight miles of Interstates 71 and 75, as well as the building of a new companion bridge to the existing Brent Spence Bridge.
The new bridge plans were revised in July 2022 based on significant community engagement and technical analysis. 45 The revised plans included reducing the bridge’s footprint, shoulder width, and overall width. Originally, the plans showed a bridge with 14-foot shoulders, a footprint covering 25 acres, and an overall width of 150 feet. However, the revised plans featured a bridge with 12-foot shoulders, a footprint covering 14 acres, and an overall width of 84 feet, reducing the number of impacted properties significantly. These changes were made from the alternative approved in 2012.
On December 29, 2022, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that $1.635 billion in federal funding grants will be awarded for the construction of the supplemental span. 44 The groundbreaking for the project is expected to take place in late 2023, and substantial completion is scheduled for 2029.
- 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.
- “Brent Spence Bridge.” Brent Spence Bridge Repairs.
- “Project Overview.” Brent Spence Bridge Maintenance 2021.
- “Govs. DeWine, Beshear Announce BSBC Project Awarded $1.635 Billion in Federal Grants.” Brent Spence Bridge Corridor, 29 Dec. 2022.
- “Govs. DeWine, Beshear Reveal Revamped Plans that Shrink Brent Spence Corridor.” Brent Spence Bridge Corridor, 15 Jul. 2022.