The Ohio Dept. of Transportation has released information for potential contractors looking to find work on a $3-billion-project to improve the traffic-choked Brent Spence Bridge connecting Covington, Ky. with Cincinnati, Ohio.

The bridge is about to get a massive upgrade thanks in part to a $1.385 billion award included in the Bipartisan Federal Infrastructure law, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2022.  

The project also is receiving $642 million in other federal funds, including $275 million from the IIJA Mega projects category and $367 million in formula funds, according to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.  

Dates for RFP release are a moving target but expected by the end of February. 

Ohio will be the lead contracting agency on the project, which will be managed by a Bi-State Management Team made up of ODOT and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet representatives.

The improvements to the existing bridge will add a second span west of the original bridge for use by local traffic, alleviating congestion on Interstates 71 and 75 crossing the Ohio River. New lanes will be added to a five-mile stretch of Kentucky highway and a one-mile piece of the Ohio highway approaching the bridge.

Some work is expected to begin as early as March with major construction starting in November 2023. Completion is slated for 2029.

The original bridge was designed in the late 1950s by Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based bridge engineering firm Modjeski and Masters. “It's really one of the greatest workhorse bridges in the country, said Thomas Murphy, senior vice president and chief technical officer at Modjeski and Masters. “It’s not too fancy but it gets the job done.”

Modjeski and Masters hope to be involved in the new project, Murphy said.

“It's a very large project and it hasn't been decided yet who exactly is going to be responsible for the various design and construction activities, but we are interested.”

Besides freeing drivers from snarled traffic on both sides of the river, the repaired and expanded bridge would offer residents additional advantages. Planned projects include pedestrian access across I-75 in Cincinnati to reconnect downtown with western neighborhoods.

The City of Cincinnati would regain nearly 10 acres in the center of downtown for redevelopment. On the Kentucky side, the project would  include a new storm sewer system to reduce flooding and improved local roads with sidewalks, bike lanes and parking. Community meetings to be held in July and August could mean additional improvements for residents.

Pete Metz, director of the Connected Region, Cincinnati Regional Chamber, sees this project as good for practically everybody in the region, including the engineering and construction industries.

“This is a signature opportunity to build infrastructure in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky regions. A gas tax increase in Ohio took effect two or three years ago. We passed a major ballot referendum to invest in infrastructure at the local level through our transit agency in 2020. Now we've got the infrastructure bill. We welcome all the work that's coming our way because we think it's good for the economy,” Metz said.

The Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky region has long been an industrial powerhouse. The expansion of the Interstate 71 and 75 corridor will increase that strength, Metz said.  

The bridge opened in 1963 to carry 80,000 vehicles a day, but it currently carries twice that. Congestion affects not only commuters, but also truckers hauling the 3% of the nation's gross domestic product that crosses the bridge annually.

Even with its current traffic burden, Murphy said the bridge has stood the test of time.

“It's really remarkable, considering that it was designed for the type of traffic that existed then compared to the much heavier and higher volumes of traffic that we have now, that the bridge can remain part of the infrastructure into the foreseeable future,” he said.