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 initially proposed in 1849 by the state of Ohio as a means of connecting Cincinnati, one of the largest cities in the United States at the time, with the developing cities of northern Kentucky. 1 The bridge, known as the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, had certain requirements: it needed to span the river without any piers, have a main span length of 1,400 feet, and provide a deck clearance of 112 feet. John A. Roebling, aiming to create a suspension bridge that would rival the impressive Wheeling Suspension Bridge, put forward his proposal.
While many residents of Covington supported the idea of a bridge connecting them to the industrious north and even adjusted their street grid to align with Cincinnati’s as early as 1815, Cincinnati itself was not enthusiastic about the project. 20 Some individuals in Cincinnati were concerned that the bridge would negatively impact river commerce, while others worried about the potential use of the bridge by escaping slaves.
Additionally, the collapse of two smaller suspension spans, neither of which was designed by Roebling, further fueled skepticism surrounding the proposed bridge. 20 Moreover, factors such as the economic recession of 1857, the onset of the Civil War, and shortages of construction materials contributed to arguments against its construction.
The construction of the suspension bridge did not start until the fall of 1856. 2 By that time, the span length had been reduced to 1,000 feet, and the deck clearance was lowered to 100 feet. 1 The construction took ten years to complete due to interruptions caused by the Civil War and financial difficulties. Furthermore, a pier near the Ohio shore caused problems that took months to repair. 20
On December 1, 1866, the new Covington-Cincinnati Bridge opened to pedestrians. 1 2 This crossing spanned 1,057 feet, making it the longest bridge in the world at the time. It featured 281-foot side spans, a 341-foot approach ramp in Cincinnati, a 292-foot approach ramp in Covington, and towering masonry towers measuring 75 feet in height. The bridge, painted tan, opened to all other traffic in January and required a toll.
The design of the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge served as a model for Roebling’s next project: the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
In 1896, the bridge was painted light blue. 10 However, in 1899, it underwent substantial rebuilding due to concerns about the deck truss and the use of inferior iron and oak deck planks. The decision to use cheaper materials was driven by inflation after the Civil War, which made the original construction plans economically unfeasible. 3 Wilhelm Hildenbrand supervised the project.
In 1963, the toll booths were removed when the Brent Spence Bridge opened for Interstate 71 and Interstate 75. 10 The Covington-Cincinnati Bridge underwent extensive repairs in 1969 and was repainted light blue in 1978. 4
In the early 1980s, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee was established to preserve and improve the crossing using private funding. 6 In 1984, they initiated their first project by installing “necklace” lighting to highlight the cables, costing $220,000. They also restored and painted the bridge’s spires with gold leaves, which, later, the state of Kentucky covered. Furthermore, the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge was renamed the Roebling Bridge after its original designer, Roebling. 1
In 1996, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) invested $10 million in repairs to extend the bridge’s service life. 8 In 1998, a $6 million contract was awarded to paint the bridge, but it was postponed due to construction related to the Fort Washington Way project in downtown Cincinnati. 4 In 2001, the Covington City Commission passed a resolution to paint the bridge in “Kentucky Wildcat blue,” although some advocated for a light brown or Spanish brown color. 5 In 2002, an informal survey of bridge walkers favored verdigris, a greenish-blue shade, but KYTC determined that the historical sandstone-tan color was more appropriate.
In 2005, 5 KYTC allocated $7 million for repainting the Roebling Bridge after it was announced that the new color would be verdigris. 7 Additionally, KYTC undertook a $1.2 million project unrelated to painting, focusing on repairing sidewalks and making structural improvements to the bridge. The bridge was then closed for 5½ months starting in November 2006 for extensive structural and electrical work, costing $3.1 million. 11 This work included replacing suspension rods, floor beams, asphalt sidewalks, and wiring. 9 Although repainting was planned, it did not happen at that time.
The Roebling Bridge reopened in March 2007. 12 Afterward, the Covington City Council advocated for banning buses operated by the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) from using the bridge due to damage caused to the 135-year-old structure. 13 KYTC, with the help of the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, conducted a study to determine a suitable weight limit for the bridge. 14 TANK argued that 19 out of their 26 bus routes crossed the Roebling Bridge into downtown Cincinnati, and using alternate routes would add at least $400,000 in operating costs each year. 13 Nevertheless, KYTC reduced the weight limit to 11 tons on September 11, 2007. 15
Repainting of the bridge was initially planned to start in April 2007 but was delayed until April 2008. 16 However, the project faced a further two-year delay due to a lack of funding.
In April 2008, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee began fundraising to replace the aging electrical lines and multi-color LED light fixtures at a cost of $450,000. 17 18 However, they abandoned the idea of multi-color bulbs after objections from the Army Corps of Engineers, who deemed them a hazard for navigational purposes. 19 Instead, white-hued LED lights were proposed.
The old light fixtures were turned off on April 1, 2009, in preparation for the repainting of the Roebling Bridge. 18 The bridge was closed to traffic between April and November 2010. 21 Subsequently, the bridge underwent another closure between February 2021 and April 2022 for a restoration project costing $4.5 million. The restoration involved repairing or replacing the sandstone masonry on the north and south anchorages and towers, as well as performing minor work on the roadway deck and sidewalk. 22
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: N/A
- Type: Wire Suspension
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2,161'
- Main Span Length: 1,057'
- Deck Width: 25'
- Mecklenborg, Jake. “John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.” Cincinnati Transit.
- “The Cincinnati-Covington Bridge.” Invention Factory 2002.
- “Cincinnati-Covington Bridge.” Structurae. 6 May 2009.
- Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge rusts amid debate over color.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 18 June 2004.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Is UK blue OK hue for Roebling?” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 26 March 2005.
- Driehaus, Bob. “River Rainbow.” Kentucky Post 14 May 2004.
- Rutledge, Mike. “UK blue unlikely for bridge.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 23 Oct. 2005.
- Paeth, Greg. “Bridge to close for repairs.” Kentucky Post 28 March 2006.
- Wartman, Scott. “Suspension bridge to close.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 29 March 2006.
- Schroeder, Cindy. “Keep bridge walkways open, Ky. urged.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 13 April 2006.
- Schroeder, Cindy. “Suspension bridge to close.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 2 Nov. 2006.
- Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge will reopen soon.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 16 March 2007.
- Saladin, Luke E. “Ban of buses on bridge surprises TANK.” Cincinnati Post 17 March 2007.
- Saladin, Luke E. “Rolling on the river.” Cincinnati Post 24 March 2007.
- McGurk, Margaret A. “Buses banned on Roebling.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 11 Sept. 2007.
- Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge painting is delayed.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 28 Feb. 2008.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Needed: Donors to light up Roebling.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 14 April 2008.
- “Envision Roebling in a rainbow of colors.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 11 Jan. 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Roebling to stick to plain lights.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 4 March 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Ohioans resisted Suspension Bridge.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 12 Jan. 2011.
- “Roebling bridge closes for paint job.” Enquirer [Cincinnati], 6 Apr. 2010.
- Goffinet, Jared and Ken Baker. “Roebling Suspension Bridge reopens after 14 month closure.” FOX 19, 6 Apr. 2022.