A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Brent Spence Bridge repairs moving briskly; Covington aims to keep trucks off city-owned streets

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said repair crews are working around the clock to reopen the Brent Spence Bridge by the Dec. 23 deadline.

The bridge, which carries I-71 and I-75 traffic over the Ohio River between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, was closed after two semi-tractor trailer rigs crashed around 2:45 a.m. on Nov. 11 while driving along the lower southbound deck. The impact caused one of the trucks, which was carrying the chemical potassium hydroxide, to burst into flames. The extremely hot fire burned for two hours before being brought under control.

Two weeks after the crash, Gray said via Zoom that Kokosing Construction Company, which was awarded a $3.1 million contract for the project, is already hard at work.

“Kokosing will have crews working 24/7, even Thanksgiving and the weekend,” he said.

Despite the deadline, which is now less than a month away, Gray says safety will be the top priority. “We will be engaging this repair project urgently, but not hastily. There will be no cutting corners in this project. That is a testament to the talent and the competence of all the team working on this project.” 

One important part of the work will be the replacement of nearly 200 feet of stringer beams on the upper deck, which parallel the path of the bridge deck and were severely damaged by the fire. Gray said the first load of replacements from the fabricator, Bottoms Engineering in Frankfort, were on site by the close of business on Wednesday.

Before the stringer beams can be placed, Gray said first will come the removal of the concrete from the upper deck.

“It’s an area roughly 180 feet by 46 feet. That’s about 6,900 square feet. Kokosing will be saw-cutting roughly six by six-foot panels. Those will be hoisted up and removed from the upper deck. This allows us to install the new steel beams below that deck, and ultimately replace the concrete upper deck.”

Repairs move along (Transportation Cabinet photo)

Gray said they are also having to deal with a significant traffic management issue, since 170,000 vehicles used the Brent Spence Bridge on an average day, and those cars and trucks are being forced to find an alternate route.

All northbound through commercial vehicles are being diverted onto I-275 at the interchange south of Covington, with only one lane open for local traffic into Covington. Traffic in Ohio on I-75 heading south also is detoured onto the I-275 north of Cincinnati. I-71 southbound traffic may use I-471 to reach Northern Kentucky.

“While the repair project is going on,” Gray said, “we encourage all travelers who plan to pass through the region, to plan your trip, plan ahead. Know your route.”

While the police investigation into the incident that led to the closing of the bridge continues, Gray said he can’t say if they will seek to recover the costs of repairs from the trucking company deemed responsible for the crash and fire. However, he added, “The history of the Cabinet is to vigorously approach an accident like this for any insurable claims. You can rest assured that is the protocol that we are following.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has already pledged $12 million to cover the cost of the repairs, and although the repair contract is for $3.1 million, Gray says there will be other costs, for such things as traffic control, construction inspection and additional steel, and that the $12 million could be considered a down payment for those other expenses.

Gray concluded, for those concerned about how safe the bridge will be, by saying, “The bridge was safe and sound and sturdy before the crash and will be safe and sound and sturdy when the repairs are completed.”

Gray said the state would continue to route tractor-trailers not delivering locally around the closed bridge onto the Interstate 275 loop.

However, when pressed by Covington Police Chief Rob Nader, Transportation officials said that the state was not banning trucks from leaving I-71/75 to use U.S. 25/42 – a state-managed highway – to cross the Ohio River via the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. In Covington, that means trucks can enter Covington from Park Hills on Dixie Highway and use Pike Street and Main Street to access the Clay Wade Bailey.

Residents and businesses in the MainStrasse Village area in particular have complained that large trucks using that route have contributed to backups there, especially when drivers of large trucks have deviated from that state-maintained route and gotten stuck on side streets.

Covington officials have responded by taking steps to ease the passage of those trucks:

One, the City rented at its expense (although it will seek reimbursement) two 13-foot digital sign trailers and put them on Pike Street to alert drivers to turn left on Main Street from Pike Street to avoid getting stuck on smaller streets.

Two, it installed additional “height limitation” signs warning trucks who fail to make that turn of the CSX Transportation trestle bridges at two key areas and routing those trucks back onto the larger streets.

And three, Chief Nader sought and received permission from the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety to use an existing federal highway safety grant to pay for enforcement details to enforce Sec. Gray’s restrictions on pass-thru truck traffic. The grant requires officers who pull over violators to write citations, not just issue warnings, while also directing them back onto I-275, Covington City Manager David Johnston said.

“Given that the rules for the U.S. 25/42 corridor are set by the state and thus our enforcement power is limited, we continue to search for ways to limit the disruption caused by trucks in our neighborhoods,” Johnston said.

Drivers can get up to the minute traffic information for any of the alternate routes and bridges between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati by going to this website.

Inquiries should be sent to KYTC.District6Info@ky.gov or (859) 341-2700. 

Kentucky Today and City of Covington

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