The latest: Brent Spence Bridge could be closed for weeks after fiery semi crash

Michael Benedic
Crews survey the damage on the lower deck of the Brent Spence Bridge on Wedensday, Nov. 11, 2020. Two semitrailers crashed on the bridge, and the chemical fire that followed damaged the top deck, officials said. CONTRIBUTED BY MICHAEL BENEDIC / WCPO-TV
Michael Benedic Crews survey the damage on the lower deck of the Brent Spence Bridge on Wedensday, Nov. 11, 2020. Two semitrailers crashed on the bridge, and the chemical fire that followed damaged the top deck, officials said. CONTRIBUTED BY MICHAEL BENEDIC / WCPO-TV

It could be weeks before crews complete repairs to the Brent Spence Bridge that spans Cincinnati and Kentucky after a fiery crash caused damage and closures on Wednesday.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray told our news partner, WCPO-TV, that the inspection of the damage alone will take multiple days. The bridge closed on Wednesday following the morning crash between two semi trucks that involved a chemical spill, and it has caused major traffic difficulties for those who travel between Ohio and Kentucky on Interstate 71.

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge was also closed late Wednesday after Covington police said drivers continued to ignore the historic bridge’s weight limit. The bridge will remain closed indefinitely “to ensure the safety of commuters and the integrity of the bridge,” police said.

Kenton County (Ky.) Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann declared a state of emergency in the county in an effort to coordinate the various agencies that will be involved in handling the various forms of disruption the bridge’s closure is expected to cause.

The Brent Spence Bridge carried between 150,000 and 200,000 vehicles per day before its forced closure, according to estimates from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. That’s more than twice the capacity it was designed to carry.

For nearly a decade, advocates in the region have been lobbying officials in Kentucky and Washington, D.C. to build a supplemental bridge to accommodate the ballooning traffic numbers. According to Build Our New Bridge Now, an organization advocating for a new bridge, the estimated cost to expand the Brent Spence traffic corridor is approaching $3 billion.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said commercial vessel travel on the Ohio River in the downtown Cincinnati vicinity had reopened by Thursday afternoon.

Each year, the American Transportation Research Institute releases its list of top truck bottlenecks. According to Tom Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association, the Brent Spence is consistently in the top 10 on that list. It’s currently ranked eighth.

“It’s a pretty old bridge,” Balzer told WCPO. “It’s one that we’ve obviously seen freight volumes and traffic volumes in the area increase pretty significantly because of economic development.”

But the fiery collision of two semitrailers early Wednesday morning, and its subsequent, indefinite closure of the 57-year-old bridge, could have more than just a regional impact, Balzer said.

“The importance of this area to the country’s freight, we need to do some work there to be able to transfer that over basically one bridge,” he said.

Roughly 80% of the nation’s freight is carried by truck, Balzer said, everything from toilet paper to food to medical supplies for hospitals. With the Brent Spence closed, only time will tell just how widely that impact will reach across the country’s supply chain.

“What we’ve been advising our members to do is to make sure they’re aware of this to get onto (Interstate) 275 as early as they can and work their way around the city if at all possible,” Balzer said.

The Associated Press and media partner WCPO-TV contributed to this report

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