Kentucky transportation officials have set Dec. 23 as the target date for reopening the Brent Spence Bridge, following a fire that damaged portions of the nearly sixty-year-old, 1,736-ft-long cantilevered truss bridge carrying Interstates 71 and 75 between Covington, Ky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Kokosing, headquartered in Westerville, Ohio, submitted a low bid of $3,127,528 and committed to having the bridge reopened to traffic by Dec. 23. There will be additional costs – the exact amount yet to be determined – for ancillary expenses such as traffic control, construction inspection and additional steel.
The fire occurred in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 11, when a truck hauling potassium hydroxide crashed into a jackknifed truck on the bridge’s lower, northbound deck. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) officials say the impact ignited 400 gallons of diesel fuel, which burned for several hours at temperatures as high as 1,500° Fahrenheit. No deaths or injuries were reported.
As the lead agency for Brent Spence Bridge maintenance, KYTC launched a full assessment of the steel superstructure and concrete decking. Of particular concern, according to the agency, was potential damage to vertical steel components.
State Transportation Secretary Jim Gray announced on Monday that on-site tests combined with metallurgical analysis confirmed that the fire did not affect the bridge’s structural integrity.
“The bridge is safe, and sound and sturdy,” he said.
Gray said repair work will include replacing an approximately 189-ft-long section of concrete deck on the upper deck, plus installation of new steel stringer beams. No major repairs to the lower deck will be necessary, he added, though damaged areas of concrete will be milled and replaced. Some associated electrical and drainage work will also be required.
KYTC is currently reviewing contractor proposals for the repair work, Gray said, adding, “We hope to make an award soon.”
While the agency has yet to announce the estimated cost of expedited repairs, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has authorized $12 million in FHWA “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to help get work underway.
Although the bridge will remain closed to all traffic until repairs are complete, staging work from the structure’s lower deck will allow the Ohio River to remain open to navigational traffic throughout the process.
KYTC is coordinating repair work with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is using the closure to perform routine maintenance work on its side such as drain cleaning, pavement repairs, overhead structure inspections and removal of vegetation and litter.
Designed with a capacity of 85,000 vehicles a day when it opened in late November 1963, the Brent Spence Bridge now handles nearly twice that volume, with its original six-lane configuration expanded to eight as part of a 1986 renovation project. The bridge is also part of a key Midwest long-haul freight route, handling a large number of heavy trucks that add to the peak hour congestion problems, according to KYTC and ODOT.
Following a 1998 National Bridge Inventory’s listing of the Brent Spence Bridge as “functionally obsolete, citing capacity, sight distance and safety concerns, the agencies formulated a proposal for a 7.8-mile corridor upgrade that would include a new bridge. Despite being deemed a priority project by both the Obama and Trump administrations, however, the bridge replacement plan has encountered political opposition in Kentucky over the proposed use of tolls.
KYTC and ODOT are also at odds over the feasibility of building a new 70-mile bypass to the east of metropolitan C