City Welcomes Roebling Project but Worries for Businesses Nearby
Work began Monday on a long-awaited restoration of the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
The 154-year old span was reduced to one lane, and next week will be completely closed to vehicular traffic.
The closure is expected to last more than nine months as part of the $4.7 million project to address crumbling sandstone on the north tower of the historic structure.
The east or upstream sidewalk will be open to pedestrians throughout the project, except when that sidewalk itself is being repaired, during which the downstream or west sidewalk will be open, state officials said.
Covington officials welcomed the work but lamented the negative impact the closed bridge would have on nearby businesses.
“This historic bridge has to be fixed, and we knew all along it would happen around this time, but that doesn’t make the closure any easier to bear,” City Manager David Johnston said. “This is an important connection between Covington and Cincinnati for our businesses because it shuttles employees, consumers, and visitors back and forth.”
Mayor Joe Meyer echoed that message.
“Between this and the 2019 closure, the emergency shutdown of the Brent Spence Bridge at the end of 2020, and the pandemic, our businesses can’t catch a break,” he said.
The bridge was originally closed when sandstone pieces fell in 2019. Previously, in 2018, the bridge was shuttered for several days following a crash.
Businesses, already stressed by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are worried about this latest blow.
Kristin Steuber, who owns The Gruff restaurant located on East Second Street in the shadow of the approach to the bridge, said the project will severely impact her restaurant and others in the Roebling Point business district.
“We knew this closure was going to happen at some point, but having that bridge closed during the important summer months is going to be pretty tough for all of us who rely on the warm weather business to operate,” Steuber said. “At this point we’re hoping that there will be good communication as the project moves along and that it will be finished quickly.”
To a specific point, Steuber said she wanted to make sure that access to her business remained clear and that any “detour” or “closed” signage posted didn’t mistakenly suggest that nearby streets and businesses were also closed.
“Hopefully stuff that like can be finessed,” she said.
The bridge was previously closed from April to August 2019 while the problem with the crumbling stone was studied and a temporary solution – safety netting to catch the fragments – was installed.
State transportation officials said they had been working with the State Historic Preservation Office to develop a project that will address a range of issues with the bridge with the aim of preserving and protecting it “for future generations.”
The $4.7 million project was awarded to Lithko Restoration Technologies, LLC. The project includes masonry work and the repair and replacement of sections of sandstone on the north and south anchorages and towers. Other work includes minor deck and sidewalk repair.
“Given the bridge’s historical significance, the work needs to stay loyal to not only its structural integrity but also preservation requirements,” said Nancy Wood, the public information officer for the Cabinet’s District 6, or Northern Kentucky office. “The repair is going to be significant, with matching rock coming from a quarry and the work itself involving Old World-style craftsmanship done to 2021 standards.”
The state said it hoped to reopen the bridge to traffic by the end of November and completely finish the overall project by Dec. 31.
Johnston said he hoped clear weather and an absence of complications would allow the project to finish even quicker. “Unfortunately, we at the City can do nothing to speed up the work,” he said.
The Roebling Bridge carries about 8,100 vehicles a day. Motorists can use the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge to cross the Ohio River or use the 4th Street/Veterans Bridge to cross the Licking River into Newport and then take the Taylor Southgate Bridge into Cincinnati.