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Cincinnati v. Newport, et. al.: Lawsuit Over Bridge Filed in Federal Court

The City of Cincinnati is suing the City of Newport, the Newport-Southgate Bridge Company, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet over the condition of the Purple People Bridge on the northbank of the Ohio River.

According to the lawsuit, filed Friday, the Louisville & Nashville (L & N) Bridge, as it was historically known, has been neglected, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) resulting in deterioration, destruction and/or demolition by neglect. Cincinnati seeks declaratory relief and injunctive relief to declare that the KYTC, Newport, and the Bridge Company are contractually obligated to provide for and bear the costs of current and future maintenance to the Purple People Bridge, which was popularly renamed due to its new purple hue by local residents in 2001.

The bridge was built between Newport and Cincinnati in 1897 and an agreement signed in 1962, according to the lawsuit, mandates that all maintenance and repairs be conducted by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. If any of the work exceeds "routine maintenance", Kentucky could bill Ohio for half the cost as long as that amount did not exceed $100,000 in a fiscal year. That amount was raised to $300,000 in 1990.

Trains stopped using the bridge in 1987 and vehicles were barred in 2001 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Commonwealth deeded the bridge to the City of Newport in 2002 and $4 million in state funds was given to the city to transform the bridge into a pedestrian walkway. 

In October 2011, several large stones fell from the bridge into a Cincinnati park below. An estimate produced by engineers at the behest of Cincinnati in March of this year indicated that $200,000 in repairs would be needed on the north side of the bridge. Two notices of violation sent by Cincinnati and the Kentucky entities were not resolved, prompting the Queen City's actions on Friday.

The suit caught Newport City Manager Tom Fromme by surprise.

"We've been talking with the City of Cincinnati for the last couple years and we are totally unaware that we owned or had any responsibility for any piers over in Cincinnati," Fromme told The River City News. He said the Commonwealth transferred the bridge to the city but that the approach is owned by Cincinnati. "We were caught unaware when this all came up and we've still not seen any documents that we own the pier."

The City of Newport will seek a dismissal of the suit, Fromme said. As of Monday afternoon, he still had not been served papers, he said. 

The Newport City Commission meets Monday evening and the lawsuit is expected to be discussed. The River City News will have more information when it is available.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo via Purple People Bridge

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