The latest: Gov. Beshear hopes to reopen Brent Spence Bridge by Dec. 23

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he hopes to have the Brent Spence Bridge connecting reopened to traffic by Dec. 23, our news partner WCPO-TV reported.

“Based on our inspection and based on testing, the crash and fire early last Wednesday did not compromise the integrity of the bridge,” the governor said Monday. “The bridge as a structure is still safe and sound and sturdy. This damage could have been far worse.”

The damage was contained to a 200 foot section of the bridge, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray said.

“We will be removing and replacing a section of the upper section concrete deck,” he said. “The damaged section of the lower deck does not require a full removal of any section.”

Instead, the damaged portions of the lower deck will be removed and replaced with new material.

Steel beams below the upper deck that support the damaged portion will also be replaced.

“The bottom line is that the bridge remains safe and sound and sturdy,” Gray said.

The Ohio River reopened to boat traffic Saturday night following the results of ongoing inspections to determine the Brent Spence Bridge’s integrity, according to our news partner, WCPO-TV, and a release from Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials.

The new local traffic flow will involve a single lane with access to half a dozen exits between the Interstate 275 interchange and the Fifth Street/KY 8 exit just before reaching the bridge northbound.

“In order to establish this new traffic pattern, several lane closures will be put into place on I-71/75 NB at the KY 18 exit,” Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 6 officials tweeted. The KY 18 exit is in Florence.

On Friday afternoon, KYTC and the Ohio Coast Guard closed the river to traffic after concern that a steel component critical to support the bridge had been damaged in a fiery crash involving two semis earlier in the week.

Saturday evening, KYTC officials said lab testing on the steel beams had come back and shown that, despite the 1,500-degree heat the beams endured for hours, the metal’s hardness had not been altered.

A semi tractor-trailer hauling potassium hydroxide collided with another semitrailer that had jackknifed on the bridge just seconds earlier. The wreckage eventually erupted into a fireball that burned for hours, putting into question the integrity of the bridge.

“The lab testing, together with testing of the metal’s hardness that specialists conducted on-site today, confirmed the components maintained their integrity, and therefore KYTC officials recommended to the Coast Guard that the river be reopened,” a news release from KYTC stated.

A team of around 30 inspectors has been working since Thursday to test damaged elements of the bridge.

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge also was 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.

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.”

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.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason regarding the urgent need to repair and restore the Brent Spence Bridge. He said the bridge “is critical for the region’s economy,” with an estimated 3% of the nation’s GDP crossing the bridge each year.

“The Transportation agencies in both states have begun repairs and seek Emergency Relief funding through the Federal Highway Administration for the repairs and restoration of essential travel on the Brent Spence Bridge. I understand the process to obtaining this assistance is already underway, with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet already receiving $12 million in quick release funds, and I support and appreciate these efforts,” Portman wrote. “While the immediate need is restoration of the operations after this horrific accident, we are in need of a long-term solution for the interconnectivity of this region.”

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