Our families and our community needs a new bridge
The 50-year-old Brent Spence Bridge is one of the most dangerous bridges in the interstate highway system
Seven years after it opened to traffic on Interstate 75 in 1963, vehicles from the newly constructed Interstate 71 also were routed over the bridge. Suddenly, a bridge that was designed to carry only 80,000 vehicles per day was handling traffic well over its designed capacity. Today, the Brent Spence Bridge carries more than 172,000 vehicles a day — more than double its capacity – and that number is expected to exceed 200,000 vehicles a day by 2025.
When the double-decker bridge was originally constructed, it had three traffic lanes in both directions and emergency lanes on both decks. However, because of increased traffic and congestion, transportation officials removed all of the bridge’s emergency lanes and added another traffic lane to each deck in 1985. This narrowed the now four traffic lanes on each deck to 11 feet in width.
Federal Highway Administration regulations require a minimum of 12 feet in travel lanes and emergency lanes of at least 10 feet on both sides of the travel lanes. Because of these deficiencies, poor signage, and other factors, federal transportation officials have designated the Brent Spence Bridge as being “functionally obsolete.”
A dangerous and unsafe span
The Brent Spence Bridge has one of the highest crash rates for interstate highway bridges. An average of 50 vehicles crash on the bridge each year. In the past decade, three people have been killed on the bridge either because their vehicles broke down or they were behind someone whose vehicle had stopped. In addition, many others have been killed and injured on the approaches to the bridge.
Commuters are three to five times more likely to wreck on the Brent Spence Bridge than any other section of interstate in the tri-state region.
As the bridge ages, more safety issues are expected to arise. In June 2011, chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck to the lower deck of bridge. While no one was injured in this incident, it caused an hours-long delay while highway officials inspected the bridge and made repairs.
“The bridge is an accident waiting to happen,” said former Covington Police Chief Lee Russo. “It has limited visibility. People are constantly jockeying for lanes because they have to make quick choices for their alternate routes, which are not clearly marketed. The short entrance ramp from 5th Street in Covington adds another dynamic with slower traffic trying to merge into high-speed traffic on the bridge. And the speed of tractor trailers coming down the cut in the hill creates another unsafe dynamic.”
Russo said that the only reason there aren’t more deaths on the bridge is because congestion often forces drivers to slow down when they get to the bridge itself. “The problems on the bridge are particularly troublesome for people outside the area,” Russo said. “And remember, most truck drivers driving tractor trailers on that bridge are not from this area — although some of them may be more familiar with the bridge’s problems than other drivers.”