Known by locals simply as “The Suspension Bridge”, the historic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge — formerly known as the Covington and Cincinnati Suspension Bridge — is set to close for extensive maintenance, repairs, and painting in October 2006.
According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 6, the two-lane bridge is expected to close immediately after the Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Festival in early October.
Several options are being considered by the Cabinet: close the bridge completely to all traffic while the work is being completed; leave a pedestrian lane open but close off all vehicular traffic; or, leave one lane open for cars and buses.
Nancy Wood, spokeswoman for the Cabinet’s District 6, has said the state is talking with the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) and the cities of Covington, KY, and Cincinnati, OH, to decide which option to choose. A decision will be made by June.
The bridge doesn’t have critical structural problems. “It is like regular maintenance on a car. It is like putting on an air filter. It is routine,” said Wood.
The same was voiced by Tom Schomaker, chief engineer for District 6 in Fort Mitchell, KY.
“If we had critical safety concerns, we would close it right now,” he said.
Schomaker attributes “excessive loading” from heavy vehicles as the primary cause of structural damage to the bridge and believes TANK traffic will be excluded in the future.
“We spent $10 million on structural repairs 10 years ago,” he said.
“That’s going to be problematic,” said Gina Douthat, director of communications for TANK, when told that Schomaker believes buses will be prohibited from the bridge in the future. Currently, TANK buses use the bridge as a convenient route to downtown Cincinnati, making 700 trips daily.
Included in the estimated $2.83 million project will be the replacement of suspension rods, floor beams, asphalt sidewalks, and wiring estimated to be 30 to 50 years old, Wood said. Painting is expected to cost an additional $6 to $8 million.
Leaving one lane open would extend the project for up to an additional year and add approximately $1.4 million to the total cost. That figure is based on traffic control throughout the project and complicated “staging” of different elements of the project.
Currently, approximately 10,000 cars pass over the bridge between Covington and Cincinnati each day. The Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and Taylor-Southgate Bridge are possible alternate routes, Woods said.
This bridge carries the least amount of daily traffic of the five bridges in the vicinity: Roebling Suspension Bridge, 10,100; Brent Spence Bridge (I-75), 155,000; Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, 12,200; Taylor-Southgate Bridge, 10,300; Daniel Carter Beard Bridge (I-471), 97,900.
If closed to traffic, untold numbers of pedestrians and drivers who cross the bridge to attend sporting events at either of the two stadiums on the Ohio side of the river, will have to find alternate routes using another of the five bridges between Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati. And several eateries will lose business as hungry Reds and Bengals fans are routed to different bridges.
Chef Sarah Humphries of Donna’s Dinner, at the foot of the bridge in Covington, said they often have grill-outs during the summer to feed Reds fans walking to the stadium.
“With the repairs,” she said, “they should keep it open for part of the time, keep one lane open or allow pedestrians to cross. It has to be accessible in some way. Businesses depend on it.”
Brian Moore, general manager of the Covington restaurant and pub Jack Quinn’s said they see a 20 percent increase before a Reds game. “It will hurt Northern Kentucky as a whole,” Moore said. “It is centered between two stadiums. People use it as a walking bridge.”
“Our main concern would be for our fans who park in Covington and are used to walking across the bridge,” said Bengals management member Jack Brennan. “We would hope during the construction that pedestrian access will be maintained. Our people will be in touch with the principals of the project, hoping to stay informed.”
Some, like Covington Mayor Butch Callery, believe “this way we get it all done in 10 or 12 months. Let’s do it right now. Then we won’t be talking about this for another 50 to 60 years.”
Regardless of which path to completion the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet decides upon, walkers, TANK riders, commuters, and baseball and football fans and the businesses they help to support will be affected, on both sides of the bridge. The last time the bridge was closed for repairs was in 1969.
The idea of a bridge between Kentucky and Cincinnati — then the largest metropolis in “the West”, was first conceived in 1815 by farmers looking for a way to market their products to Cincinnati.
Used as a model for the Brooklyn Bridge, it was the longest bridge of its kind when opened for traffic in December 1866. Roebling began work on the bridge in 1856. The project was delayed because of a downturn in the economy and the Civil War.
Operated as a toll bridge from 1954 until 1963 when the Brent Spence Bridge was opened on I-75, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
In 1983 it was designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark and the Transportation Cabinet officially renamed it the “John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge”. CEG