Thursday, March 11, 2004

Two bridge options dropped

Tunnel to replace Brent Spence discounted

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CRESCENT SPRINGS - Engineers overseeing a study to identify potential options for replacing or upgrading the Brent Spence Bridge eliminated two alternatives Wednesdsay for solving problems on the aging bridge.

Eliminated from consideration were a new interchange west of downtown and a new bridge near Anderson Ferry.

At a meeting involving Kentucky, Ohio and Cincinnati transportation officials and consultants, all agreed that no more study would be done on the two options, while officials also presented data that discounted the possibility of a tunnel.

That left five possibilities that have been introduced to date, although the study is also considering a truck diversion as it looks to have three viable alternatives by November, along with cost estimates for each.

"If we can eliminate something this complicated from our thinking now, we can better use our time," said Mike Bezold, who is overseeing the study as interim planning director for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's district office.

Preliminary estimates run about $750 million for a bridge replacement, including $250 million in Ohio alone for the approach work. Local officials are trying to secure funding from Washington.

One alternative that was stopped was one of six presented in January.

That possibility called for a new bridge west of the Brent Spence that would carry traffic for both Interstate 71 and 75, leaving a rehabilitated Brent Spence for local traffic. In addition, a new interchange would have been built further west of downtown, replacing a myriad of connections to the interstates in western downtown.

Wednesday, officials said the prospect of opening up more land for redevelopment in western downtown was appealing. But they said that was not nearly attractive enough to overcome the social and economic cost that would be associated with creating a major interchange in the middle of Queensgate.

Officials eliminated the Anderson Ferry proposal for a different reason: Such a bridge would not alleviate much traffic from the Brent Spence.

According to a draft study on this option, such a bridge would carry 35,000 vehicles a day and take only 16,000 vehicles a day off the Brent Spence.

"It is just not sufficient for the needs of the study," said Diana Martin, district planning administrator for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The officials also discussed a preliminary draft study of the impact a truck ban would have on the bridge, correcting one figure to state that the financial costs to drivers would be nearly $500,000 daily, not annually.

Still, such a ban cannot be officially ruled out as a potential alternative until it can be seen how much more structural life it would give the Brent Spence.

Bezold and several consultants from engineering firm Burgess & Niple discussed costs associated with a tunnel option. Lead consultant Herb Mack said a concrete tunnel alone could cost $600 million, and that would probably be only 30 percent of the total cost.

"I think we have enough ammunition to say why we didn't consider it when people ask us about a tunnel," Bezold said.


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