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Brent Spence Bridge closure could impact more than just regional traffic, trucking expert says

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Posted at 1:48 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 12:56:34-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — When Tri-State drivers complain about Brent Spence Bridge traffic being "the worst," there's data to back up their grief.

Each year, the American Transportation Research Institute releases its list of top truck bottlenecks. According to Tom Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association, the Brent Spence is consistently in the top 10 on that list. It's currently ranked eighth.

"It's a pretty old bridge," Balzer told WCPO. "It's one that we've obviously seen freight volumes and traffic volumes in the area increase pretty significantly because of economic development."

But the fiery collision of two semitrailers early Wednesday morning, and its subsequent, indefinite closure of the 57-year-old bridge, could have more than just a regional impact, Balzer said.

"The importance of this area to the country's freight, we need to do some work there to be able to transfer that over basically one bridge," he said.

RELATED: How to get around during Brent Spence closure

Roughly 80% of the nation's freight is carried by truck, Balzer said, everything from toilet paper to food to medical supplies for hospitals. With the Brent Spence closed, only time will tell just how widely that impact will reach across the country's supply chain.

"What we've been advising our members to do is to make sure they're aware of this to get onto (Interstate) 275 as early as they can and work their way around the city if at all possible," Balzer said.

Officials Wednesday afternoon advised that through-traffic should divert using I-275 and Interstate 471.

Truck freight timetables aren't the only ones jeopardized by the bridge's closure: Water traffic in the vicinity of the bridge remained closed into Thursday as investigators assessed the damage caused by the blaze.

"There are lots of bulk commodities that are transported by barge up and down the river, and it's going to affect those companies, whether it's petroleum-based chemical products that need to get up or down the Ohio River or sand, gravel, grain," said Lt. Commander Jim Brendel, supervisor of the Coast Guard Marine Safety detachment in Cincinnati.

He said that the river in the downtown Cincinnati area will remain closed to water traffic "until we get a good structural report on the bridge and make sure that's safe and sound for commercial traffic to pass underneath it."

Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news conference Thursday that investigators began inspecting the bridge that morning, but he declined to speculate on how long the bridge might remain closed.

The governor has scheduled a follow-up news conference for Thursday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.