COVINGTON, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear Monday afternoon said he hopes the Brent Spence Bridge will reopen to vehicle traffic by Dec. 23.
"This is good news in a bad situation," Beshear said. "This wouldn't have happened if it weren't for a little luck with what this accident didn't do."
The projected Dec. 23 reopen date would be 42 days after the Nov. 11 crash that closed the bridge. Early that morning, two semitrailers -- one of which was carrying the highly flammable and corrosive chemical, potassium hydroxide -- collided, igniting an intense fire that burned for several hours.
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"It's hard to repair something this big and this massive in a shorter time period," Beshear said.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray elaborated on inspectors' findings and their recommended repairs.
"In a nutshell, we will be removing and replacing a section of the upper concrete deck," as well as replacing some steel beams that support the upper deck in the vicinity of the crash and subsequent fire, which burned at roughly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, Gray said.
"The good news is, the vertical steel members were not compromised. We will be adding new stringer beams to support the replaced upper deck," Gray said. The length of the concrete section scheduled for replacement is roughly 200 feet long, Gray said.
Gray said his team is still working to estimate the total cost of the necessary repairs, but he said the $12 million in emergency funds coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation -- announced last week by USDOT Sec. Elaine Chao -- would serve as a down payment for that work.
Repair work will start "almost immediately," Gray said, pending contractors' bids for the work.
Both Beshear and Gray emphasized that the ongoing issues with the Brent Spence Bridge have always regarded its traffic capacity rather than its structural integrity.
"Bottom line is that the bridge remains safe and sound and sturdy. The (repair) project will return the bridge to service in a safe, sound, and sturdy condition," Gray said.
Opened in November 1963, the bridge was designed to carry 80,000 vehicles per day. In recent years, that total has been closer to 160,000.
"The Brent Spence is safe. It's always been safe. The issue has always been capacity," Gray said. "Clearly a companion bridge is needed."
For more than a decade, communities in the region have lobbied Frankfort and Washington, D.C. to either replace the Brent Spence or build a supplemental bridge to handle the new levels of traffic. Cost estimates for that project are approaching $3 billion and rising every year.
"Does this accident further highlight the need for a resolution? Yes," Beshear said. "But it has to be one that's supported by local communities, as well."