On Nov. 25, 1963 – in the shadow of a national tragedy –
the first cars and trucks drove across the new Brent Spence Bridge.
The opening of the double-decker span across the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio was supposed to be cause celebre for the region and the nation — the final piece in the construction of a large section of the new interstate highway system.
However, the opening of the bridge — the final link on a 122-mile section of Interstate 75 highway between Dayton, Ohio, and Georgetown, KY, – was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas three days before. The nation was still mourning the president’s death when the bridge opened for traffic.
Construction of the Brent Spence Bridge started on Jan. 9, 1961, and took nearly three years to complete. The bridge cost approximately $12.57 million to build at the time. It was the first bridge over the Ohio River that linked Northern Kentucky with Cincinnati in 72 years.
Traffic more than doubles bridge’s capacity
In 1970, traffic from newly constructed Interstate 71 also was routed over the bridge. Suddenly, a bridge that was designed to carry only 80,000 vehicles per day was significantly over its designed capacity. Today, the Brent Spence Bridge carries more than 175,000 vehicles a day — more than double its capacity – and that number is expected to exceed 200,000 vehicles a day by 2025.
When the bridge was built nearly 50 years ago, it was constructed with three lanes in both directions and emergency lanes on both decks. However, in 1985, because of increased traffic and congestion, transportation officials removed all of the bridge’s emergency lanes and added another traffic lane to each deck. This narrowed the four traffic lanes on each deck of the bridge to 11 feet in width, rather than the 12 feet required by the Federal Highway Administration. The minimum shoulder width for highways with more than three lanes is 10 feet on both sides of the traffic lanes. The bridge has no shoulders.
Today, the Brent Spence Bridge is a lynchpin of the I-75 corridor, a major commercial artery connecting the upper Midwest and Canada to the South. The bridge is critical piece of public infrastructure for both the region and the nation. More than $400 billion in freight crosses the bridge each year, and that amount is expected to double to $815 billion by 2030. More than 40,000 heavy trucks — approximately one-fourth of all vehicles traveling the bridge — traverse the bridge each day.
The bridge’s travel lanes are too narrow, its merge lanes are too short, the signs are too hard to see, and the on- and off-ramps are too close together. Because of these problems, federal transportation officials have designated the bridge as “functionally obsolete,” which means the bridge cannot safely and efficiently accommodate current traffic needs.
The bridge has one of the highest crash rates in the nation. The Brent Spence Bridge ranks seventh nationally for the highest crash rate on interstate highway bridges. An average of 50 vehicles crash on the bridge each year and Covington police respond to an average of 650 accidents, disabled vehicles, and other vehicle-related issues on the bridge each year. Crash rates for vehicles traveling southbound on the bridge are almost five times the normal crash rate in Ohio and about 1.5 times the crash rate in Kentucky on similar roadways.