Home » Updated: Brent Spence Bridge will be closed for several weeks for repairs from ‘intense fire’

Updated: Brent Spence Bridge will be closed for several weeks for repairs from ‘intense fire’

One of the busiest trucking routes in the U.S.
(Photo courtesy the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet)

Nearby Roebling Bridge closed now, too, because of repeated violations of its weight limit guidelines

Lanereport.com staff report

COVINGTON, Ky. — The Brent Spence Bridge connecting Covington and Cincinnati remains shut down after a fiery collision early Wednesday morning, and it is likely to remain closed for several weeks.

Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann on Thursday declared a local state of emergency and Gov. Andy Beshear has issued a regional state of emergency.

The bridge was closed to traffic in the wake of a crash early Wednesday morning involving two commercial motor vehicles that sparked an intense fire. Crews worked through the night, Wednesday into Thursday, to clear the bridge of debris and allow access to a corps of about 20 inspectors and engineers.

A truck jackknifed while driving northbound on the lower deck of the bridge. A second truck carrying potassium hydroxide crashed into it, causing a fire. Emergency management personnel said 400 gallons of diesel fuel was the main cause of the fire, Beshear said. An unknown amount of diesel fuel spilled and burned in the fire, which took two hours to extinguish and apparently burned at up to 1,500 degrees F, the governor said.

“At best, the bridge will be closed for several days, but travelers should be prepared for the possibility of weeks. Every reopening estimate at this time is purely speculative,” Beshear said. “Employers who are able should allow their employees who can to work from home.”

The historic Roebling Bridge in Covington is also now closed “due to numerous and continued violations of the bridge’s weight limits” from traffic that was diverted from the Brent Spence, Covington Police announced Wednesday evening. The historic bridge has an 11-ton weight limit. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is working with officials on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the river to reopen the Roebling Bridge, upriver from the Brent Spence, to passenger traffic. The pedestrian walkway is open to foot traffic.

The Brent Spence Bridge is a vital link across the Ohio River waterway, Knochelmann said. The bridge carries both I-75 and I-71 traffic through the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area, but it also connects 10 states (including Kentucky and Ohio) from as far north as Michigan to as far south as Florida, according to the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project website.

“The collision has adversely impacted the movement of goods and commodities within interstate commerce,” Knochelmann wrote in his declaration. “… The duration of this disruption will continue into the foreseeable future until the damaged portion is replaced or repaired.”

Northern Kentucky officials have long been advocating for funding to upgrade the bridge, which originally opened in 1963. It is overcapacity. The bridge currently carries 160,000 cars per day when it was designed to carry just 80,000, according to ODOT’s Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project. It is also one of the busiest trucking routes in the United States, with freight equaling 3% of the nation’s gross domestic product crossing the bridge each year, according to a 2009 study from the Texas Transportation Institute.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of the Brent Spence Bridge and the entire I-71 and I-75 corridor. We are committed – fully committed – to reopening this bridge as quickly as we can, provided it is fully safe for everyone that would cross it,” Beshear said. “I want to emphasize our need for patience and also planning for your personal and business disruption that’s going to be occurring for at least the next several weeks. We need a little patience as well until we can give you an official timeline.”

The governor said he would request federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation if needed.