Ohio bridge named worst infrastructure in U.S.

Posted at 12:56 PM, May 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 08:06:48-04

CINCINNATI -- A Washington-based newspaper is calling the Brent Spence Bridge the No. 1 "infrastructure emergency" in the United States.

The Hill, a paper that covers Congress and the federal government, claims the bridge is threatening "both the economy and public safety."

The 53-year-old bridge carries more than 160,000 vehicles a day, double what it was built to accommodate. That volume is expected to grow even higher in 2025, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The paper wrote the following in its report: 

In addition to overcrowding and congestion, there are mounting concerns about the safety of the bridge after chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck onto the lower deck. Statistics also show that drivers are three to five times more likely to have a wreck along the corridor.

Some transportation planners are calling on officials not only to rehabilitate the bridge but to construct a new one alongside it. Every year of delay in the start of construction costs the taxpayers nearly $75 million per year in inflation, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"The story is important because The Hill is read by members of Congress and their staffs, and they know about the dire condition of the Brent Spence Bridge," said Jill Meyer, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional. "It also provides a reminder to local legislators and elected officials what is obvious to those in Washington."

The federal government hasn’t allocated the money to rebuild the bridge and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is opposed to tolls to finance it.

The bridge's own Wikipedia page calls it “functionally obsolete."

"The condition of the Brent Spence Bridge is not going to improve, it's only going to get worse," Meyer said. "The bridge is overcrowded, unsafe and a constant impediment to commerce and the important manufacturing corridor it creates."

What To Do About The Brent Spence Bridge?

Mark Policinski, CEO of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council, had a conversation with Bevin in February concerning the bridge and the bottleneck it causes.

“The solution is to build a companion bridge. It’s the cheapest option and the best option,” Policinski said.

As the saying goes, that’s the rub. While other plans have been offered, such as the Eastern bypass proposal, nothing is going to alleviate what has become a nationally known choke point at the bridge – except building another bridge and separating the traffic flowing on Interstate 75 from that on Interstate 71.

“Federal money is available, but we need a finance plan in place,” Policinski said. “We have to deliver this sooner rather than later. It’s of national importance, and people in Washington understand that. It’s famous for its gridlock and importance.”

He also said the bridge, when taken with the I-74/I-75 junction just to the north, is the seventh-busiest trucking point in America. Policinski also called the bridge “the lynchpin” of the I-75 trade corridor.

“That gives you an idea of the impact of the bridge on the nation,” he said.

So if getting traffic through an infamous pain-in-the-(bottle)neck point is so important, why has it taken so long to develop a solution — or at least a viable alternative?

Every year the project is delayed, the price tag increases. Bevin opposes the use of tolls to pay for the new bridge, as do many regular drivers of the corridor. That’s all well and good, but, Policinski said, drivers are already being tolled in lost time and wasted gas.

A study done by OKI said the combination was costing frequent users of the bridge $9 a day.

For perspective, that’s the same as it would cost to use the Skyway in Chicago both ways, every day.

So, the ball is back in the hands of Bevin to develop a plan.

How Long Will That Take?

“By the end of this year he will come up with a plan, and we need to be supportive of him,” Policinski said.

Still, as Policinski points out, the bridge isn’t ready to collapse. It is deemed obsolete in large part due to the narrow lanes and lack of emergency shoulders, which were removed to alleviate traffic congestion in 1986. So basically, it’s been 30 years since anything was done to significantly improve traffic flow over the Brent Spence.

What this means for the region is despite the bridge handling roughly double the daily traffic for which it was built — and that serves as a vital conduit for both the regional workforce and national shipping — it has to continue to stand and serve.

But hopefully not for another 30 years.

Reporters Andy Foltz and Maxim Alter contributed to this report.