COVINGTON, Ky. — Back-ups on the Brent Spence Bridge are something people in Northern Kentucky have come to expect over the years, while talks of building a new bridge, and how to pay for it, have gone back and forth for decades.
What You Need To Know
- The emergency project to quickly repair and reopen the critically important Brent Spence Bridge following a truck crash and fire has been selected as a Public Works Project of the Year
- The two-deck Brent Spence Bridge carries 160,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati on Interstates 71 and 75
- It was abruptly closed on Nov. 11, 2020, after two tractor-trailers collided about midway through the bridge’s lower deck, causing fire damage to a portion of the bridge
- Forty-one days later, on Dec. 22, 2020, the bridge was reopened to traffic, fully restored, under budget and ahead of schedule
But a quick and effective response to an emergency situation on the bridge last year has garnered national recognition and acclaim. Now the state hopes to apply that experience to future bridge repairs.
Covington resident Rodney Turner can still remember just how bad things looked last November.
“I remember it that morning. You could see them still on the bridge early in the morning putting the fires out,” he said. “And then the traffic started coming into Covington, and it was a parking lot, which just made it impossible for any of us to get anywhere.”
The bridge abruptly closed on Nov. 11, 2020, after two tractor-trailers collided about midway on the bridge’s lower deck, causing fire damage to a portion of the bridge.
It looked like something that could’ve taken months to fix, as Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Public Information Officer Nancy Wood explained.
“As soon as we got the word on Nov. 11 that this incident had happened, KYTC brought in several great contractors,” Wood said. “It was some great teamwork from all kinds of folks. ODOT, KYTC, Kenton County, great engineering minds who were innovative, and really planned and worked 24-7 to get this bridge back open.”
And it was back open 41 days later, ahead of schedule and under budget.
The American Public Works Association (APWA) named it the Public Works Project of the Year.
The Brent Spence Bridge repair was among a select handful of projects the association singled out as exemplifying “amazing collaborative efforts to build and rebuild America’s infrastructure.” It was named Project of the Year in the category of disaster or emergency construction repair less than $5 million. APWA will recognize the Brent Spence repair and other Project of the Year Award winners in a video posted to www.apwa.net on Aug. 31.
“This nationally recognized bridge has now earned Kentucky national praise for the great work performed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and its contractors to turn a crisis into an accomplishment,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “The expert repairs not only led to the quick reopening of an economically significant corridor during a bustling holiday season, but it preserved the safe condition of a bridge that will remain in service for decades to come.”
Turner said he tries to stay away from the bridge.
“Right now, I avoid it. I mean, when you've got traffic backed up to Kyle's Lane, and you’ve got traffic backed up to Harrison Avenue on 75, there is a quicker way to get around,” he said.
The bridge is currently getting a new paint job, which Wood said is on schedule, and should be complete by November.
The Brent Spence Bridge is one of the busiest and most important corridors in America, which underscores the importance of making sure it stays open, Wood said. The two-deck bridge carries 160,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati on Interstates 71 and 75.
“So we’re maintaining a vital piece of infrastructure. The bridge is sound. It’ll be there for future generations. It’s carrying traffic and doing its job,” she said. “That project did kind of set a standard for us. So if we ever have another emergency crisis like this, we wrote the book with this emergency project.”
Turner, who’s lived in Northern Kentucky for 30 years, said he’s appreciative of the work done to maintain the bridge, but like many others in the area, he said he’d like to see the major overhaul that’s long been discussed.
“Yeah, I’m not gonna hold my breath on that. I think it’s a ways off,” he said.
Editor's note: The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said the paint job has always been scheduled to be complete in November, meaning it is currently on schedule. The cabinet previously provided information saying the paint job on Brent Spence Bridge is ahead of schedule. This story has been updated to reflect the update.