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Mike Hancock: "Structurally Sound" Not Same as Safe on Brent Spence Bridge

Complex issues need lots of discussion, and the Brent Spence Bridge is no exception. Boiling the debate down to one word or issue is a disservice to the citizens of northern Kentucky.
 
Today, anti-tollers seem to be fixated on the word “safe,” saying that because the bridge is structurally strong there is no need to replace it. 
 
That’s not unlike saying a safe neighborhood is one in which the buildings are still standing, but with no mention of crime rates. We all know there’s more to safety than just strong architecture.
 
In the case of the Brent Spence Bridge, it’s not the structure that’s unsafe – it’s how people use it. 
 
It is true that the existing bridge was built more than 50 years ago and requires regular maintenance to care for its “age spots” – the rust, spalling concrete, worn-out expansion joints and other issues that are inevitable in roads and bridges.
 
It also is true that the bridge is in relatively good physical condition for its age, and in no imminent danger of falling. In other words, it is structurally sound.
 
That is distinct from the driving conditions that have evolved on the Brent Spence Bridge and which too often, at predictable points of every day, make driving unsafe.
 
Reduced-width lanes to accommodate more traffic is an unsafe condition.
 
Absence of emergency shoulders is an unsafe condition.
 
A traffic load nearly double the designed capacity, when combined with narrowed lanes and no shoulders, is an unsafe condition.
 
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) works hard to maintain the Brent Spence Bridge, but operating conditions on the bridge are often deplorable. As time goes by, the existing bridge will get more congested and driver frustrations will continue to mount. This situation will only get worse over time, not better.
 
So, what to do with this information? The public should understand that the basic problem is that the Brent Spence Bridge is undersized for the traffic that wants to use it. The only cure for that condition is to increase the number of traffic lanes at this location, and the only viable way of doing that is to build a second bridge. We cannot “restripe” our way to more capacity. So, the question becomes: How long can the communities on both sides of the river tolerate the ever-increasing bridge congestion?
 
An ongoing discussion of the need to modernize the Brent Spence Bridge Ohio River crossing is necessary to ensure a thorough public understanding of the issues surrounding this very complex project. It is healthy to talk about why improvements are needed and how those improvements can be paid for. It is not healthy for anyone to make uninformed assertions about the safety of the existing Brent Spence Bridge.
 
We at KYTC encourage healthy public discussion about the project. Our only request is that this discussion be centered on the basic truth that the existing Brent Spence Bridge congestion creates driving conditions that are unsafe. Then, and only then, will the result of the public dialogue be responsibly productive.
 
Mike Hancock is the Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Kentucky