Drivers have been given a glimpse into the revised future of the Brent Spence Bridge and its planned companion bridge, including new lane configurations, wider shoulders and plans to silo local and thru highway traffic.
According to a July 15 news release from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, the Brent Spence Bridge will be reduced to three lanes of traffic on both decks, with emergency shoulders widened so stalled vehicles can more safely pull over. The existing bridge will carry the flow of local traffic, a departure from the 2012 plan for the new companion bridge to share both local and highway traffic. The companion bridge will now only carry I-71/75 traffic to reduce congestion.
Revised plans show the new companion bridge at almost half the size of the 2012 model — shrinking from 25 acres and spanning 150 feet to 14 acres and 84 feet in width. Shoulders on the companion bridge have been reduced from 14 to 12 feet.
Ohio Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, commented on the strides made since the 2012 design in a news release.
"We felt good about where we were a decade ago because that solution provided additional capacity that reduces congestion and improves travel throughout the corridor," Marchbanks says. "We feel even better about this revision because it dramatically reduces the footprint of the new bridge and completely separates interstate and local traffic."
Repeated ClosuresThe Brent Spence Bridge is a major connector between Cincinnati and Covington where congestion has been a pain point for years.
In November of 2020, the bridge was closed for about six weeks when two semi-trucks crashed, causing a chemical spill and massive fire. The closure caused major disruptions for commuters across the region until it reopened in December of that year. In July 2022, an overturned fuel tanker shut down both directions of I-71/75 on the bridge, causing backups that lasted 12 hours. Several lanes and ramps on the bridge were also closed throughout 2021 to clean and paint the bridge.
The American Transportation Research Institute named the Brent Spence Bridge the No. 2 bottleneck for freight trucks in the entire nation. That's the same ranking as in 2021 and three spots higher than in 2020. A website for the bridge's 2017 maintenance project states that the structure, built in 1963, was originally designed to carry 80,000-100,000 vehicles per day, but traffic in recent years has doubled to 160,000-180,000 vehicles each day.
Improving the Whole Corridor
Improving the bottleneck will require addressing the entire eight-mile corridor of the Brent Spence Bridge, according to transportation officials. Plans include reconstruction and widening of I-75 from just north of the Findlay Street overpass to just south of the Marshall Avenue overpass, fixes to Winchell Avenue, connecting an I-75 ramp to the new Western Hills Viaduct and more. Phase 1 plans for the corridor will be submitted in December, according to the project schedule.
Funding Still in the Works
In May, DeWine and Beshear jointly asked for $1.66 billion from the Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant, a program through the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced $2.9 billion in available funding through the program in March, as part of the new infrastructure law.
The grant funding Beshear and DeWine requested is about 60% of the project cost, they said in a statement announcing the application. Other funding will come from the two states and other federal dollars, a press release stated, though it didn't give specific sources for the remaining funds.