From The Vault: Brent Spence Bridge or JFK Bridge?

Assassination delayed ceremony, almost renamed bridge
This week in history: JFK Bridge or Brent Spence
This week in history: JFK Bridge or Brent Spence
Posted at 8:44 AM, Nov 25, 2015
and last updated 2020-01-24 15:04:51-05

CINCINNATI — CINCINNATI - On Nov. 25, 1963, JFK's assassination took the spotlight away from one of the Tri-State's biggest transportation achievements and almost buried the legacy of the man it honors.

The Brent Spence Bridge opened to little fanfare just a few hours after the mourning nation watched Kennedy's funeral and burial on small black-and-white TVs in homes and offices.

A big celebration had been planned with the governors of Ohio and Kentucky – and Brent Spence himself - crossing the bridge in simultaneous motorcades – one north, one south – along with fireworks. That ceremony was postponed for a week. 

At the last minute, before the bridge was scheduled to open at 3:30 p.m., Cincinnati and Covington officials decided to add some formality to it. They arranged for a handful of officials in open convertibles – already decorated for the occasion - to be first to drive across the bridge. But as soon as workers removed the barricades, motorists waiting to go first jumped the gun.

By the time the officials in their convertibles moved out on the bridge, traffic was already whizzing by.

After the tragedy in Dallas, some people pushed to have the bridge renamed for Kennedy. Even the modest Spence, retired after 31 years as a powerful congressman from Northern Kentucky, supported the idea.

But Kentucky Gov. Bert Combs, who had naming authority, said no and put Kennedy’s name on the new I-65 bridge that opened two weeks later over the river in Louisville.

As you watch the video above, notice the official convertibles performing a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Roebling Suspension Bridge. They were marking the end of tolls on the Suspension Bridge. A driver pulls up to a toll booth, stops and hesitates – perhaps not aware of the change – before driving on.

This was one of the biggest days in Tri-State transportation history, not only because the bridge opened, but so did the Fort Washington Way connection to the bridge and the completion of I-75 north of the bridge.

The video shows cars traveling on I-75 north of downtown for the first time, passing Crosley Field.

So you know, there is no narration on the video.

Now, 52 years later, the Brent Spence Bridge is officially "functionally obsolete" and one of the worst traffic chokepoints in the U.S. There's a $2.6 billion proposal to build a new one and widen miles of highway on both sides of the river, but the two states and the federal government have been deadlocked for years over how to pay for it.