Friday, January 30, 2004

Plans show options for Brent Spence

All six have pros and cons, all costly

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] From Kentucky, a view of the Ohio riverfront west of downtown made in September shows the area where a new span to replace or augment the Brent Spence Bridge (leftmost bridge) could be located. The western alignment is needed to avoid a Cinergy substation (directly on the riverbank) and historic Longworth Hall behind it.
(Glenn Hartong/The Cincinnati Enquirer)
After seven months of study, Kentucky officials have given the public its first glimpse at how the state could fix or replace the Brent Spence Bridge, the aging 40-year-old span now carrying Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River.

A new bridge, built farther to the west, would carry all I-75 traffic in four of the six preliminary scenarios under review. Those four plans call for rehabilitating the Brent Spence or building a second new bridge at its location. Three of those four concepts would have the rehabbed Brent Spence or a new structure carry Interstate 71 and local traffic.

Building a new western bridge could avoid the traffic disruptions that would likely follow for several years if the Brent Spence were torn down and replaced where it is - as proposed in the other two scenarios.

But land in Cincinnati and Covington would need to be acquired for a new western bridge, forcing some businesses to relocate.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and its engineering consultants this week unveiled the preliminary scenarios to a committee overseeing the $2 million study on how to fix the bridge.

The study is the start of what will be at least a 12-year effort to replace or fix the Brent Spence.

"We're not looking at these six as choosing between them, but rather as a way to narrow down into corridors that we can examine further," said cabinet engineer Michael Bezold, the Brent Spence project manager, who led a committee meeting Wednesday. "We are using this as a process to further narrow down what is feasible from an engineering standpoint."

Brent Spence Bridge replacement
Brent Spence replacement may force firms to close
Transportation and political leaders from both sides of the Ohio River are pushing for a replacement to the Brent Spence, which carries 155,000 vehicles a day - more than double its original design capacity.

An Enquirer investigation last September found that the Brent Spence has the seventh-highest accident rate among bridges of its type in the country, primarily because of major safety flaws such as no breakdown lanes and poor visibility.

The estimated cost of a replacement is $750 million, a figure that Bezold says will become better defined during the current study. Kentucky is overseeing the study and will bear most of the costs, because it owns the bridge. Ohio is expecting to pay $250 million for approaches on its side of the river.

Project engineers characterize the six concepts as very preliminary. But they add that most of the six options meet all the goals set out when the study started. Those include:

• Avoiding historic Longworth Hall, an adjacent Cinergy substation and Union Terminal.

• Keeping access to the interstates at its current level in both Cincinnati and Covington.

• Somehow keeping traffic flowing across the Ohio River during construction.

• Minimizing impact on low-income, residential neighborhoods.

But the two options that call for rebuilding at the Brent Spence site could affect Longworth Hall and the Cinergy station, which provides power to most of downtown, if a replacement isn't a double-decker. A single-level span would require more land and airspace than the Brent Spence.

Adding a western bridge could have a dramatic impact on both Covington and western downtown Cincinnati, as well as the southern section of the industrial Queensgate neighborhood.

That immediately raised the concern of Cincinnati city officials, who asked about the impact on those developed areas.

"We realize that this is just ink on paper at this point," Eileen Enabnit, Cincinnati's director of transportation and engineering, said after the presentation. "There are a lot of potential impacts to the city here, and we're going to want to be part of those discussions."

In Covington, the new western bridge could run right along Crescent Avenue, which features several businesses and some homes, including new condominiums.

But Bezold said that the two-bridge option could route all through and truck traffic onto one bridge, and keep local traffic on a rehabilitated Brent Spence or on a new bridge, if the Brent Spence can't be renewed.

Building two smaller bridges could cost about the same as building one big bridge in place of the Brent Spence, he said. But Bezold also acknowledged that building two bridges could wind up being even more expensive, especially since the western bridge could require an elevated highway for more than a mile into Ohio.

The ongoing study also is considering how much longer the Brent Spence can remain standing. Engineers have previously estimated it has 15 years of structural life left if nothing is done to it. The structure is "functionally obsolete" under federal design standards

Bezold said his agency's goal is to winnow the six ideas down to three, then solicit input from the study committee over the next month or so. From there, the cabinet will further examine the remaining options to better identify their feasibility and impacts.

One idea that was almost immediately shot down Wednesday was building a new western bridge and relocating a full I-71/75 interchange in Queensgate - away from the current connections with Fort Washington Way. That could free up more downtown land for development, but would create a huge mess elsewhere from land acquisitions and business relocations.

"The likelihood of something that massive happening in the Cincinnati area is very small, but this study cannot really eliminate anything at this time," Bezold said.

What's next

The next step for Brent Spence Bridge is to narrow the different options into two or three that can be examined further, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials say.

From there, agency officials and engineering consultants will more closely examine the feasibility of building the structures and what the specific costs and impacts would be, with the hope of finishing the study in 2005 with two options.

Once this feasibility study is completed and funds can be secured, a final alignment must be picked, preliminary engineering must begin and the process of clearing all the federal environmental reviews and permits must begin.

Local political and business leaders are renewing their push for federal funding for the $750 million it's now estimated to cost.

Which of the six potential ways to fix the Brent Spence Bridge do you prefer? Go to, then type in the keyword Brent Spence to cast your vote.


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