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Brent Spence Work Could Cause 20-Mile Backups

Maintenance work is scheduled to begin on the Brent Spence Bridge on Friday night, kicking off roughly two months of traffic trouble around the 50-year old span.

A news conference is scheduled for Monday morning, but the Kenton County Mayors Group got a special preview of the potential impact at its monthly meeting on Saturday.

Only The River City News was there.

The mayors heard that typical rush hour back-ups within the bridge's corridor could more than double.

"On a normal morning you get about an 8-mile back-up," said Steve Hensley, director of Kenton County emergency management. "Now they are saying it could back 20 miles."

Hensley said that emergency responders, including local fire and police chiefs, were briefed on the project a week prior, which prompted the Ft. Mitchell Fire Department to share an image and some expected details of the impacted areas. "Emergency responders will have live access to how traffic is flowing," Hensley said.

Bob Yeager, director of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's District 6 office in Northern Kentucky, was a guest at the meeting to explain the $10 million maintenance project on the bridge.

The bridge has been the target of a proposed $2.6 billion replacement project that would add a second span west of the current bridge in an attempt to increase capacity in the corridor. The bridge currently carries more than twice the amount of traffic for which it was designed.

But the appetite to finance the pricey project through the use of tolls has not been a popular option in Northern Kentucky.

So, until a plan is place for the bridge project, a maintenance project will have to suffice.

"Regardless of what we do in the future, we do have today," Yeager said. "The Brent Spence Bridge is the heart of the area. It has been here a long time. It is what connects Michigan to Florida. It carries a large amount of truck traffic. It is going to be there a long time and the most direct route is the route we have to take. 

"It is my responsibility to make sure it stays in reasonable shape and structurally sound."

Yeager said that the contractor will have two crews working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with one crew on the upper deck and another on the lower deck. Lanes will be closed on both levels at the same time, heavily reducing the speed of traffic crossing the bridge. Yeager is convinced, however, that the work will be completed in 60 days. "(The contractors) are being charged $20,000 a day for not getting this work done, so I am pretty confident they'll get this done."

The $10 million maintenance effort includes a new deck and the removal of a few inches of old concrete. All the joints will be replaced and there will be new lighting on the lower deck, which Yeager said has become quite dark. There will also be some minor steel repair, he said. On the Ohio side, some of the approaches will be worked, causing some lane closures and traffic re-routing in Cincinnati. "They are doing some work on the tunnel and they will re-route traffic going south to take traffic off the Brent Spence Bridge," Yeager said.

Yeager said that his office expects a high volume of calls, so the state has contracted with a firm to answer such calls and the website, BrentSpence2017.org, will go live on Monday morning with live updates on the project and the affected lanes and routes. If there are traffic accidents, a wrecker will be on site throughout the maintenance work so that the scene can be cleared as quickly as possible.
 
Some access points at the bridge will be closed for the duration of the project, including the 4th Street entrance ramp in Covington, though emergency vehicles will be able to use it.
 
Additional details about the closures will be available later Monday, but the Ft. Mitchell Fire Department shared an image on Facebook last week that appears to offer a glimpse at what to expect. According to the image, which the department stated was given out by KYTC during a meeting at Gateway Community & Technical College in Boone County on June 9, closures will include the exit to Erlanger/KY 236 from southbound I-75, and the ramps to I-71 from Ft. Washington Way and Third Street in Cincinnati.
 
On the 1 mile-long bridge, two lanes will be open both ways, with barrier walls in place.
 

WATCH THE BRENT SPENCE 2017 MAINTENANCE PROJECT PRESS CONFERENCE:

 
NEWS RELEASE FROM THE KENTUCKY TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT
 
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) today announced that routine maintenance will take place on the Brent Spence Bridge, beginning Friday, June 23, at 9 pm, weather permitting. Significant impacts to traffic on the bridge and on routes to get around the bridge are expected for approximately two months. KYTC is managing the project, which is part of an ongoing program to maintain and improve the condition of the regional transportation network.

Maintenance work will take place in three coordinated phases

The Brent Spence Bridge is a major thoroughfare for both local and national traffic, connecting two states that are critical to the movement of people, goods and services. The bridge carries I-71 and I-75 traffic over the Ohio River and has four lanes of traffic on each of the upper and lower decks. Maintenance work will take place in three phases, with two lanes on each deck closed at a time, beginning with the two easternmost lanes, moving across to the two middle lanes and ending with work in the two westernmost lanes. Each phase will take approximately 15-20 days, weather permitting. Some temporary overnight lane closures after this two-month period will continue for another three months.

Beginning on June 23, at 9 pm, traffic will be reduced to one lane for a period of time over the weekend as traffic barriers are put into place. Barrier placement will start on the southbound (upper) deck, then crews will move to the northbound (lower) deck. Two lanes will be open in both directions and the traffic pattern for the first phase of work will be in place no later than Monday morning rush hour.

In addition to the lane closures on the bridge, there also will be several ramp closures affecting access to the bridge. The following ramps will be closed at 9 pm, on Friday, June 23, for approximately two months.

In Ohio:
• The ramp to I-71 South from Fort Washington Way • The ramp to I-71 South from Third Street

In Kentucky:
• The ramp from Fourth Street in Covington to I-71/I-75 North • The ramp from I-71/I-75 South to Erlanger/KY 236

Crews will replace the concrete surface on the bridge, upgrade the lighting and drainage systems, repair steelwork and complete other general maintenance tasks.

Some short-term ramp closures will be scheduled on weekends

In order to complete maintenance work on ramps that provide access to and from the bridge, additional closures will be scheduled on a short-term basis over weekends. Up-to-date information will be posted on BrentSpence2017.org as these closures are scheduled. Weather permitting, the first temporary closures are anticipated for June 30 at 9 pm and would last approximately two days.

In Ohio, these temporary closures for the weekend of June 30 would include:
• The ramp from I-75 North to US 50 West • The ramp from I-75 North to Fifth Street • The ramp from US 50 East to I-75 South

Work contract structured to ensure timely completion

Bob Yeager, Chief District Engineer for KYTC in Covington, underscored the importance of the bridge for both local and national travel and said that KYTC has taken a unique approach to this work to ensure timely completion.

“Typically, a maintenance project of this size and scope would have significant impacts over the course of an entire construction season,” said Yeager. “Recognizing the important connection the Brent Spence provides for many who travel to and through the Greater Cincinnati area, we structured our contract with Hall Contracting of Kentucky, Inc., to complete this maintenance work as efficiently as possible. Working in two of the four lanes on both decks around the clock will allow us to maintain reduced traffic on the bridge as maintenance work progresses and restore the full movement of traffic as quickly as we can.”

Yeager also noted that the Brent Spence Bridge was built to support approximately 80-100,000 vehicles per day; currently, it carries twice that volume. “The bridge is inspected annually and is structurally-sound, remaining viable for long-term use,” said Yeager. “Discussions regarding construction of a new bridge, which would add capacity to our regional transportation network, are unrelated to this maintenance project and based on current plans, the existing bridge will continue to be operational whether or not a new bridge is built.”

Plan your drive, know your lane and drive safely

KYTC officials encourage the public to become informed about the impacts that maintenance work will have on traffic by visiting BrentSpence2017.org to learn more about the project schedule and other project information. “Before getting on the road, drivers should plan their route and when possible use alternate routes to get around the bridge,” said Yeager. Traffic information will be provided on project social media channels. In addition, drivers can consult various travel advisory services, including WAZE and OHGO, and should pay particular attention to the digital signage around the region, which monitors traffic information and provides travel times to various destinations.
Project leaders also asked the public to pack their patience when they get behind the wheel. “As always, drivers should use caution, slow down and eliminate distractions when traveling through active work zones,” said Yeager. “We hope the public will be our partner in this work. We’ve done the planning, now we’ll do the work; we need the public to do their part and help us get through this project by being patient with the additional time lane closures will cause and by being courteous to fellow drivers on the road.”


Saturday's meeting of the mayors group also offered an opportunity for supporters of the Cincinnati Eastern Bypass to present their ideas. Greg Fischer, of Fischer Homes, offered a quick presentation on the proposed route that would bring a highway through the southern part of Northern Kentucky's three counties and connect to Ohio. He said that the project, which supporters estimate would cost $1.1 billion, would help divert regional thru-traffic. 

 
Meanwhile, Kenton County mayors expressed their concerns about the upcoming maintenance project.
 
"This project is long overdue, so I'm glad you're doing it," said Ft. Wright Mayor Dave Hatter. "We're frustrated we didn't know sooner to make sure we have our ducks in a row, but it's a little too late to care about that." The mayor expects to see diverted traffic through his city. "Having a bunch of semis driving around the city is not very helpful."
 
Hensley said that Kenton County Police is prepared to divert its resources from the southern end of the county to the northern cities during the project to assist with any increase in traffic issues.
 
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer brought a resolution, the latest adopted by the city commission in opposition to tolls on the Brent Spence, and urged his fellow mayors to adopt a similar resolution in their cities. 
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher