By Jack Moreland
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s recent closure of the Fourth Street Bridge between Covington and Newport — also known as the World War Veterans Memorial Bridge — underscores the compelling need for more state transportation infrastructure funding for Northern Kentucky’s river cities.
Last week, KYTC closed this vital connection on Ky. 8 between Kenton and Campbell counties to vehicular traffic when inspectors found a corroded load-carrying iron beam on the bridge. Three days later, KYTC reopened the bridge but reduced the traffic lanes from three to two and lowered the weight limit from 17 tons to 3 tons.
Although Chief Engineer Bob Yeager and his staff at KYTC District 6 can — and often do — work miracles on our existing roads and bridges, they cannot do much to improve an 84-year-old obsolete and unsafe span in the midst of new and growing urban-core development.
This bridge, which was built between the First and Second World Wars in 1936, carries nearly 14,000 vehicles a day — a number that will likely increase as development efforts continue to move forward in Southbank Partners’ member cities – Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Fort Thomas, Ludlow, Newport, and Silver Grove.
The Fourth Street Bridge is located only a few hundred feet away from where AEG Presents/PromoWest is building its new $40-million indoor-outdoor concert venue, which is expected open early next year. This concert venue is part of the $1 billion Ovation mixed-used development in Newport, a development that will include residential units, restaurants, retail, hotels, offices, and parking structures over 35 acres of riverfront property.
The aging span is an important connector between the Ovation development and Newport on the Levee and Monmouth Street and Covington’s hotels, restaurants, and business districts, the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, and the city’s own major mixed-use development that will be developed on 23 acres riverfront property where the Covington IRS Service Center used to operate.
Another major issue with the bridge is the narrow sidewalks that flank both sides of it. These sidewalks are so narrow that when a pedestrian or jogger meets someone pushing a baby carriage or riding a bike on the sidewalk, one of the people using the bridge may have to literally back up off the bridge to let the other person pass.
The ultimate solution to this infrastructure problem is not to continue to repair the existing bridge, but to build a new one. The good news on this front is that the Southbank Partners and officials from the cities of Covington and Newport have been working with our state legislators for some time now to do just that.
Because of this work, during the most recent legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly appropriated nearly $4.4 million to pay for detailed engineering and design work for a replacement bridge.
Rep. Sal Santoro, who serves chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, and Sens. Chris McDaniel and Wil Schroder played key roles this past session in seeing that this important funding was included in the 2021 state budget, a project also supported by Rep. Buddy Wheatley and Rep. Rachael Roberts.
Early, preliminary designs for a new bridge show a metal and concrete structure with four vehicular lanes and 15-foot cantilevered pathways on both sides of the bridge that allow ample room for pedestrians, runners, and bikers, who will be safely separated from each other. These paths will be incorporated into Riverfront Commons, Southbank’s signature project, a 11.5-mile walking, running, and biking trail that runs from Ludlow to Dayton, with future plans to travel through Fort Thomas and Silver Grove.
While the initial funding allocation in this legislative session is significant, it is just the first step needed to make this new bridge a reality. The next step is funding to acquire any property for the project, if needed, and of course, the funding needed to construct the new bridge itself.
Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced vehicular travel and slowed some development plans, both of these activities in our river cities will likely resume once this pandemic is resolved and our economy restarts, all of which makes construction of this new bridge more important now than ever before.
Jack Moreland is president of Southbank Partners Inc., a community and economic development organization that coordinates activity within the seven river cities in Northern Kentucky – Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Fort Thomas, Ludlow, Newport and Silver Grove.