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Brent Spence Bridge Doesn’t Have Quick-Fix Options

Fri July 22, 2011 - Midwest Edition
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COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) A fatal accident on the Brent Spence Bridge in June has spurred talk of finding a quick fix for the outdated, overcrowded structure, but The Kentucky Enquirer reports there isn’t one.

Some suggestions to make the 48-year-old Ohio River bridge that connects Covington to Cincinnati safer include reinstating emergency lanes, reducing the speed limit, banning trucks and rerouting all traffic.

But transportation officials say those ideas won’t work. Mark Policinski, who is executive director of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, said the problems with safety and congestion on the bridge “are 30 years in the making. There are no simple solutions.”

A replacement bridge is in the works, but it isn’t expected to open for at least another decade.

Preliminary engineering on the project is under way now, but construction isn’t slated to start until 2015 —and that’s only if funding is secured from the federal government, the state of Kentucky and the state of Ohio. The cost is estimated at more than $2 billion and construction is expected to take about seven years.

The bridge was designed to carry 80,000 vehicles per day, but now averages more than twice that number.

The death of a man who was knocked off the bridge while trying to push his stalled car has revived debate about ways to make the span safer now.

Transportation officials say reinstating shoulders for emergency stops isn’t practical or feasible. The shoulders were removed in 1986 to accommodate increasing traffic across the bridge.

“It would, I think, greatly, greatly help the safety issues,” Policinski said. “It would probably also back up traffic to Dayton.”

Rob Hans, chief engineer of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s District 6 in Fort Mitchell, said there are simply too many vehicles crossing the bridge to make it work.

A reduced speed limit wouldn’t work either because it would create massive traffic backups, Hans said.

Studies show that banning trucks, which make up less than 20 percent of daily traffic across the span, has more drawbacks than benefits, Hans said.

While rerouting all traffic hasn’t been studied, officials say that idea isn’t practical and could shift the problem to other roadways.

Transportation officials say there may not be any easy solutions, but they are doing what they can until the span is replaced.

In an effort to improve signs and get drivers in proper lanes sooner, Kentucky officials added car-sized decals to the pavement of northbound lanes in May. Before that, drivers had to read directional signs on bridge beams overhead and those unfamiliar with the area had little time to react.

“The real problem is how long it takes to build things in this country,” Policinski said. “The federal process is awful, it’s broken, and now we see that it’s dangerous.”

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