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Covington commissioners: Enforce the hazmat ban on I-71/75, Brent Spence Bridge

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Posted at 12:16 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 13:17:45-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — City officials in Northern Kentucky's largest city are calling on state and federal agencies for help in publicizing a law restricting hazardous materials from crossing the Brent Spence Bridge.

"The ban, approved by both federal and state highway officials, appears to be neither widely known nor routinely followed," a city staffer wrote in a news release Thursday. Earlier in the week, the Covington Board of Commissioners passed a resolution calling for more signage indicating the restrictions and for more enforcement.

"[E]ach day that the ban on transporting hazardous materials north of the Interstate 275 interchange (at Interstate 71/75) is not enforced creates a heightened risk to the citizens of Covington," the resolution reads.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in July 2013 designated the stretch as a "Restricted Hazardous Material" route, limiting the transportation of chemicals like potassium hydroxide, which ignited a fire after a crash on the Brent Spence Bridge on Nov. 11, prompting its abrupt and extended closure.

FULL COVERAGE: Brent Spence Bridge closure

KYTC Secretary Jim Gray on numerous occasions since the crash has stated the truck carrying the chemical that night was within the legal limit for being on that stretch of highway.

Still, Covington Mayor Joe Meyer told WCPO earlier this month the November crash should serve as a sign that the issue needs more attention.

"Now we get to say, 'We're lucky we were under that, but maybe that's a sign of some sort," Meyer said. "I'm not willing to take a risk of allowing hazmat on that bridge in the future.

"The risk of hazmat on the bridge has been proven. Why run that risk again?"

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Two semitrailers were unrecognizable after the intense fire that resulted from a Nov. 11 crash on the Brent Spence Bridge.

Ohio Trucking Association president and CEO Tom Balzer confirmed there is confusion among the freight industry over the law.

"(Drivers) do get conflicting reports, and these things do change with a lot of frequency," Balzer told WCPO for a previous story. "I think there was a lot of people that didn't know that the northbound traffic was not allowed for hazmat until people started digging into it."

Existing signage on the highway doesn't help the matter. One sign on the northbound side alerts truck drivers to avoid Lytle Tunnel -- another hazmat-restricted area -- on Interstate 71 in Ohio and advises taking Interstate 75 when the two highways split just north of the Brent Spence.

This is "in apparent violation of the ban," the news release stated.

Gray clarified previously that those signs were in position to direct any hazmat drivers who might have arrived on that stretch of interstate by mistake.

But the confusion over the law has elevated a traffic problem into a gridlock nightmare, the commissioners' resolution and Meyer asserted, and has prevented I-275 from being the bypass it is meant to be.

"It has been just an extraordinarily disruptive and difficult circumstance for the people and businesses of our community," Meyer said in Thursday's release.

Previous reporting by WCPO 9 's Courtney Francisco contributed to this story.