The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Monday, 24 February 2014 13:01cat

Brent Spence Bridge Project at Crucial Point

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The new bridge will be built next to the existing Brent Spence Bridge The new bridge will be built next to the existing Brent Spence Bridge TheBrentSpence

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray announced on Friday that the Brent Spence Bridge project is at a crucial point.  Currently, the state of Ohio has legislation allowing for the bridge to be built by a public-private partnership. A similar bill is being considered in Kentucky at the moment, but the project cannot move forward if it is not passed. The new Brent Spence Bridge will cost an estimated $2.6 billion to remove the existing bridge and construct the new version. 

The current Brent Spence Bridge is a double-decker cantilever truss bridge that crosses the Ohio River. It allows residents of Northern Kentucky to commute to Cincinnati, Ohio and vice versa.  The bridge was opened in 1963 and was designed to carry 85,000 vehicles per day. As of 2007, 155,000 cars cross the bridge each day, and about 65% of the cars travel from Kentucky to Ohio.  In 2011, large pieces of concrete fell from the upper deck of the bridge onto the lower level, and the bridge was closed down for a day to repair the damage. While it currently is considered to be structurally safe, many residents of Ohio and Kentucky have lost faith in the functionality of the original bridge.  The two states’ departments of transportation discussed renovating the bridge, but it was ultimately decided that building a new bridge was the better option.

According to ODOT Director Wray, “The funding is going to involve a loan, a low-interest loan from the federal Transportation Department. It's going to involve a motor fuel tax, both state and federal, from Kentucky and from Ohio. And the centerpiece of it is going to be tolls. We cannot have a bridge without a tolling program." The announcement of toll revenue funding the design and construction of the new bridge originally angered some commuters who use the bridge each day. There is especially strong opposition in Northern Kentucky due to the expectation that the state’s residents will pay a disproportionately high percentage of the tolls because more vehicles originate from Kentucky than Ohio. The residents would like an equal split of the cost between the two states. The report released by the two DOTs on December 31, 2013 does not recommend a dollar amount for the toll to cross the bridge, but it does say it will examine other similar projects and base the amount on those findings. 

A recent study by the University of Kentucky found that tolls would have little effect on the economic benefits of the new bridge. Traffic will be reduced by at most 2 percent, and trucking could be reduced by 3 percent.  In the best scenario, overall traffic on the bridge could increase by 1 percent. These fluctuations in the amount of vehicles crossing the bridge each day will likely not have an impact on retail or food service in the region.  

The Kentucky legislature will vote on the public-private partnership bill in mid-April. The project will then either move forward with the design process, or it will continue to be delayed and both sides will need to reevaluate other options to build the new Brent Spence Bridge. Director Wry did not provide a definitive deadline for a funding plan to be created for the bridge.


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