Brent Spence project more than adding a new bridge

Eighkt mile corridor upgrade planned

CINCINNATI - When Erin Woiteshek leaves her Florence home and drives north on I-75 toward the Brent Spence Bridge, she always has a plan.

"I try to decide where I'm going and which lane I should be in immediately because you don't have much time to make that decision once you pass Covington," she said Monday.

Woiteshek knows she has to be extra alert to keep her daughter, Lucie, and son, Sam, safe in their carseats.

"You cannot be on the phone," she said. "It makes it very difficult if you're distracted at all."

Her comments come as transportation experts say that once drivers get on the span heading north, they have exactly 21 seconds to decide which of two interstates or three exits to take.

Driving southbound has its own challenges with I-75 and I-71 traffic merging and the 5th Street and 12th Street exit ramps at the end of the bridge.

Eliminating confusion, congestion and giving drivers minutes instead of seconds to make critical choices are part of the $2.7 billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project.

The project involves much more than adding 16 lanes for traffic and constructing a new bridge next to the existing one.

It includes upgrades to eight miles of highway from the Western Hills Viaduct in Cincinnati to Dixie Highway in Fort Mitchell.

"We have a safety and a congestion problem along the corridor," said Jim Riley, the Ohio Department of Transportation's Deputy Director for the Division of Innovative Delivery. "Adding lanes is one solution, but changing decision points is another."

Rob Hans, District 6 Director for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said another goal is eliminating drivers weaving their vehicles over multiple lanes to get where they want to go.

That's being done by separating interstate traffic moving through the area from local traffic.

"The local move will be on what we're considering a collector/distributor roadway network," Hans said. "That will allow all the movements at a potentially slower speed than interstate speeds."

The result could be a a safer highway system.  

Right now, drivers are three to five times more likely to have a wreck on the Brent Spence Bridge than on any other portion of the interstate systems of Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana.

The bridge is functionally obsolete, handles more traffic than it was designed to carry and has no breakdown lanes if a motorists gets into trouble.

"By reducing the number of access points, you're reducing the number of conflict points -- the number of locations where people make a decision and aren't sure or are hesitant," said Riley. "By reducing that, you're improving the safety."

Hans said transportation planners assign a letter grade to the level of service operation for a bridge.  Right now, the Brent Spence Bridge rates an "F."

He added that upgrading the corridor moves that to a level of service "C" -- even during peak hours.

Traffic delays are also expected to be reduced by 80 percent, saving much of the 1.6 million gallons of gasoline currently wasted due to traffic congestion.

That's important to the country's economy, since four percent of the gross domestic product travels across the Brent Spence Bridge every year.

Erin Woitsehek understands those numbers, but said her main focus is keeping her family safe.  Consequently, she welcomes anything that will take some of the pressure off driving the corridor.

"Any sort of extra time that you could have would be very helpful and would make me feel better," she said.

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