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Roebling Bridge

Roebling Bridge

The John A. Roebling Bridge is a historic wire suspension bridge across the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.


History

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 the fall of 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

Preservation

In the early 1980s, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee was formed to preserve and enhance the crossing through private financing. 6 The group funded its first project in 1984 and installed “necklace” lighting to accentuate the cables at the cost of $220,000, restored the bridge’s spires, and painted them with gold leaves at the cost of $60,000, which the state of Kentucky later absorbed. Additionally, 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 extend the service life on the crossing. 8 A $6 million contract was awarded in 1998 to paint the bridge, but the work was never performed because of construction relating to the Fort Washington Way project in downtown Cincinnati. 4 The Covington City Commission adopted a resolution in 2001 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, although it was discovered by KYTC that the sandstone-tan color was more historic.

KYTC allocated $7 million towards the repainting of the Roebling Bridge in 2005 5 after it was announced that the color of the crossing would be repainted in verdigris. 7 Unrelated, the highway agency commenced a $1.2 million project to repair the sidewalks and perform structural improvements to the bridge. The Roebling was closed for 5½ months beginning in November 2006 for more extensive structural and electrical work at the cost of $3.1 million, 11 which 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 Roebling Bridge reopened to traffic in March 2007. 12 Following the reopening, there was a push by the Covington City Council to ban buses operated by the 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. 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 Nevertheless, KYTC reduced the Roebling’s weight limit to 11 tons on September 11, 2007. 15

Repainting of the bridge was scheduled to begin in April 2007 although this was delayed until April 2008. 16 The repainting project was delayed for another two years as no funding had been allocated for the project.

In April 2008, the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee began fundraising efforts to install new electrical lines and multi-color LED light fixtures to replace an aging system at the cost of $450,000. 17 18 The Committee soon backed down from using multi-color bulbs after meeting resistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, who stated that the multi-color lights would be a navigational hazard to freight traffic along the Ohio River that depended on red and green hues to navigate the waterway safely. 19 It was proposed to instead using white-hued LED lights.

The aging light fixtures were turned off on April 1, 2009, in preparation for the Roebling Bridge to be painted, 18 and the crossing was closed to traffic between April and November 2010. 21 The bridge was again closed between February 2021 and April 2022 for a $4.5 million restoration project which involved repairing or replacement of sandstone masonry on the north and south anchorages and towers, and minor work on the roadway deck and sidewalk. 22


Gallery


Information

  • State: Kentucky, Ohio
  • Route: N/A
  • Type: Wire Suspension
  • Status: Active - Automobile
  • Total Length: 2,161 feet
  • Main Span Length: 1,057 feet
  • Spans:
  • Deck Width: 25 feet

Sources

  1. Mecklenborg, Jake. “John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.” Cincinnati Transit.
  2. “The Cincinnati-Covington Bridge.” Invention Factory 2002.
  3. “Cincinnati-Covington Bridge.” Structurae. 6 May 2009.
  4. Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge rusts amid debate over color.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 18 June 2004.
  5. Rutledge, Mike. “Is UK blue OK hue for Roebling?” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 26 March 2005.
  6. Driehaus, Bob. “River Rainbow.” Kentucky Post 14 May 2004.
  7. Rutledge, Mike. “UK blue unlikely for bridge.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 23 Oct. 2005.
  8. Paeth, Greg. “Bridge to close for repairs.” Kentucky Post 28 March 2006.
  9. Wartman, Scott. “Suspension bridge to close.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 29 March 2006.
  10. Schroeder, Cindy. “Keep bridge walkways open, Ky. urged.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 13 April 2006.
  11. Schroeder, Cindy. “Suspension bridge to close.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 2 Nov. 2006.
  12. Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge will reopen soon.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 16 March 2007.
  13. Saladin, Luke E. “Ban of buses on bridge surprises TANK.” Cincinnati Post 17 March 2007.
  14. Saladin, Luke E. “Rolling on the river.” Cincinnati Post 24 March 2007.
  15. McGurk, Margaret A. “Buses banned on Roebling.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 11 Sept. 2007.
  16. Schroeder, Cindy. “Bridge painting is delayed.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 28 Feb. 2008.
  17. Rutledge, Mike. “Needed: Donors to light up Roebling.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 14 April 2008.
  18. “Envision Roebling in a rainbow of colors.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 11 Jan. 2009.
  19. Rutledge, Mike. “Roebling to stick to plain lights.” Enquirer (Cincinnati) 4 March 2009.
  20. Rutledge, Mike. “Ohioans resisted Suspension Bridge.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 12 Jan. 2011.
  21. “Roebling bridge closes for paint job.” Enquirer [Cincinnati], 6 Apr. 2010.
  22. Goffinet, Jared and Ken Baker. “Roebling Suspension Bridge reopens after 14 month closure.” FOX 19, 6 Apr. 2022.

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