The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Cincinnati Bridge carries CSX over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The original crossing for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) between Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio was constructed in 1886-88 by the Covington & Cincinnati Elevated Railroad, Transfer & Bridge Company, a subsidiary of the C&O, which owned the bridge and its approaches and served as a terminal operating company from Cincinnati to K.C. Junction at the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. 3 Cantelivered automobile lanes were later added to the exterior of the bridge.
By the 1920s, the crossing was utilized by 34 passenger and express trains of both railways each day. 3
Planning efforts for a new, stronger bridge with lower grades that could accommodate the C&O’s heaviest locomotives began in the mid-1920s, and the railroad company offered the circa 1888 structure to the city of Covington for $2 million with an agreement that the railroad expend $900,000 to convert the bridge for automobile traffic. 5 6 It was proposed to make it a free crossing. The proposition was presented to the voters of Covington in 1926 but the measure was defeated. 5 6 8
Regardless, the design of the new bridge progressed by the J.E. Greiner Company of Baltimore, Maryland. 2 3 The company proposed the construction of a two-track bridge that would include a river channel span of 675 feet with flanking spans of 450 feet each 3 with more gradual grades as to eliminate the dual locomotive requirement to pull coal trains over the river. 6 A lengthy approach in Cincinnati would include 6,200 feet of steel viaduct and a lengthy wooden trestle, with the main branch extending westward to the Big Four tracks at Baymiller and Front Streets to afford access to the Central Union Depot, another branch extending to Fifth Street to connect to the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad Terminal and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (of Indiana) terminal, and a third branch extending north to the C&O station on Fourth Street. 3 The approach in Covington would include 1,600 feet of a new viaduct that would tie into a grade crossing separation project 3 that involved removing grade crossings at Pike Street, Russell Street, 17th Street, and Madison Avenue and the building of new viaducts over the tracks at 11th Street, 12th Street, and Robbins St. 6 The project would also entail the building of a new bridge over the Licking River between Covington and Newport.
The United Gas & Improvement Constructing Company of Philadelphia was awarded the contract to construct the new river piers while the A.H. Callighan Company of Richmond, Virginia obtained the contract for the masonry on the Ohio approach. 3 The Boxley Brothers Company of Orange, Virginia obtained the masonry and excavation contracts for the Kentucky approach trestle as well as the grade separation project.
Construction of the new superstructure began in 1927 by the American Bridge Company 2 and was completed when the two sides of the cantilevered truss bridge were joined on February 21, 1929. 5 When the last piece of iron was secured, a whistle was sounded that acted as a signal to riverboats to join in a celebration. In total, the superstructure required 8,620 tons of steel and was the heaviest and most substantial railroad bridge over the Ohio.
The new Ohio River bridge for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was opened for through traffic on April 3. 6 It was completed at the cost of $3 million while the approaches, including the grade separation project in Covington, cost an additional $8 million. 5
In July, L.B. Wilson, a banker and theatrical manager from Covington, offered to purchase the old bridge for $2 million after it was renovated for automobile traffic by the C&O. 7 In his proposal, Wilson agreed to organize the Covington & Cincinnati Cities Bridge Company that would finance the purchase of the crossing through a bond issue of $2.5 million. After the bonds are retired through toll collection, the bridge’s ownership would be given to the city of Covington with the bridge operated by the state Highway Department as a free crossing. Others pressed the state to take ownership of the bridge. 4
A legal fight ensued which eventually made its way to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. 8 It was agreed that the Bridge Company, under an agreement with the C&O, would operate the toll bridge The city of Covington, by a vote of the Commissioners, turned its option to purchase the bridge over to the Bridge Company. A lawsuit was filed that tested the right of the city to transfer its option on the bridge without charge and without competitive bidding.
The renovated circa 1888 structure was opened for automobile traffic following a dedication ceremony attended by Governors Flem D. Sampson of Kentucky and George White of Ohio on May 20, 1931. 7 8 Airplanes soared overhead while bombs exploded nearby following prepared remarks.
Tolls were initially collected from motorists to pay down acquisition and construction costs, and it was originally projected that a toll would be levied until 1940, and later October 1942. 8 9 The freeing of tolls on the Louisville & Nashville Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati on November 11, 1941, led to a 25% decrease in traffic on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Cincinnati Bridge. 9 It was not until 1942 that tolls were removed from the crossing. 10
In 1955, a train jumped the tracks on the adjoining circa 1929 span and rammed a steel support pillar of the Ohio approach ramp. 12 Repairs took a week to complete. In 1960, a reporter for the Cincinnati Post and Times-Star investigated complaints of the bridge’s deterioration by walking it with a Kentucky highway engineer. They found rusted structural beams that had holes; one was rusted to such an extent that when the engineer kicked it, his foot went right through. In December 1963, Cincinnati police discovered that a concrete support had slipped out of place on the Ohio approach ramp which had caused the roadway to tilt. That repair took a week to finish.
On March 27, 1968, a man walking across the bridge fell through an undiscovered hole in the concrete sidewalk and nearly fell through to the river. 12 He barely managed to grab the edge and pull himself back up to safety.
The issue of the bridge’s deterioration, coupled with the collapse of the Silver Bridge upstream, caused the state to close the circa 1888 railroad-turned-automobile bridge was closed to traffic on November 9, 1968. 11 12 It was razed in the fall of 1970 in preparation for the erection of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge in 1974. 1 The new Bailey Bridge followed the alignment of the original railroad bridge and used one of its original river piers while the northernmost river power was removed to allow for a wide 675-foot river navigation channel.
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: CSX
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Railroad
- Main Span Length: 675 feet (1929)
- Deck Width: 38 feet (1931)
- Roadway Width: 30 feet (1931)
- Jensen, Shirlene, and Jerry Moore. “Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.” Campbell County KYGenWeb, 7 May 2009 Article.
- Bridge plaque.
- “Children Have Chance to Emulate Smith.” Kentucky Post and Times-Star [Covington], 22 Sept. 1928, p. 10.
- “Cincinnati Span.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 10 May 1929, p. 2.
- “Ohio Bridge Near Completion; River Craft to Join Sirens.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 20 Feb. 1929, p. 14.
- “New Bridge.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 Mar. 1929, p. 14.
- “Two Governors To See Bridge Opened.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 May 1931, p. 14.
- “Severed Ribbon.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 21 May 1931, p. 10.
- “May Continue Toll Fees On Bridge To Early 1943.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Nov. 1941, p. 22.
- “Kentucky Offers to Buy Central Bridge.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Oct. 1947, p. 1.
- “Relief Promised Bridgeless Drivers.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 Feb. 1973, p. 30.
- “C&O Highway Bridge Closing Tomorrow.” Cincinnati Post, 8 Nov. 1968, p. 1.