COVINGTON, Ky. — A week after a serious crash closed the Brent Spence Bridge to traffic, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray looked optimistically ahead to the coming weeks of repairs while also urging patience from Tri-State commuters and deference to traffic strains from commercial truck drivers passing through the region.
During a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gray reiterated what he has said since his and Gov. Andy Beshear's first address since the bridge's abrupt closure a week prior.
"The bridge is safe as ever. The issue has always been an issue of capacity," he said. "The bridge still has a life in front of it as a safe bridge."
Last week, Gray set the Brent Spence's target reopen date for Dec. 23, roughly six weeks after two semitrailers collided and ignited an intense chemical fire that burned through the early morning hours on Nov. 11. That fire was so hot, Gray said, that concrete on the bridge's lower deck "bubbled" as it cooked at roughly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is the first image I've seen of the impact the intense fire had on the lower deck concrete. Gray said this concrete is still structurally sound and will be filled in. @WCPO pic.twitter.com/qG4tp8fsww— Pat LaFleur (@pat_laFleur) November 18, 2020
The impacted area spans nearly 200 feet of the bridge's upper and lower decks. Gray said crews will resurface the damaged concrete on the lower deck, but a full replacement of that deck is not necessary, unlike the corresponding upper deck, which will require a full replacement. Crews also will replace the steel "stringer" beams that supported that portion of the upper deck.
Other repairs will include replacing concrete guardrails along the lower deck and some drainage and electrical work.
These slides indicate most of the repair work planned for the bridge. pic.twitter.com/OWuBb7DTUW— WCPO 9 (@WCPO) November 18, 2020
Gray also addressed ongoing efforts to manage the major traffic disruptions across Northern Kentucky that came immediately as a result of the bridge's closure last week, pointing to Beshear's executive order mandating commercial through-traffic divert off Interstate 71/75 at the Interstate 275 interchange.
"(KYTC District 6 is) constantly monitoring traffic in the area and are making adjustments as needed," Gray said.
Immediately following the closure, officials closed the I-71/75 corridor north of I-275 in Kenton County and the I-75 corridor south of I-275 in Hamilton County. Since, those corridors have reopened to limited capacity to accommodate local traffic only.
Looking beyond the immediate repairs needed, Gray acknowledged the bridge's problems extend beyond this temporary closure.
"The larger question for this region is capacity. This bridge is clearly over its intended capacity, and that's why there's been so much conversation about a companion bridge," he said.
When it opened in 1963, the Brent Spence Bridge was designed to carry roughly 80,000 vehicles per day. In 2019, the average daily traffic was nearly double that, at 152,333, according to Ohio Department of Transporation traffic counts.
Watch Gray's update in the viewer below: