COVINGTON, Ky. — Mayor Joe Meyer wants the Kentucky Transporation Cabinet and law enforcement to do more to prevent a crash like -- or worse than -- the one that shut down the Brent Spence Bridge three weeks ago.
"If this experience has shown us anything, it's shown us the danger of hazmat on the Brent Spence Bridge," Meyer told WCPO Wednesday morning, referring to the Nov. 11 collision between two semitrailers, one of which was carrying the hazardous material potassium hydroxide. The chemical ignited after the crash and burned intensely for hours, culminating in a six-week shutdown of the major commuter and freight bridge.
WCPO spoke with Meyer moments before KYTC officials gave an update on the state of repairs for the Brent Spence Bridge. KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said crews have been working all hours of the day to get the bridge up and running again. His cabinet officials estimate crews will complete the repair work by Dec. 23.
"We are working literally around the clock," KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said. "The project remains on track..."
But Meyer said his concerns extend beyond the repair work: He wants to know why the truck carrying the chemical was on the bridge in the first place.
According to KYTC, the law prohibits the transport of hazardous materials along Interstate 71/75 north of the Interstate 275 interchange in Northern Kentucky, but Gray said the truck involved in the crash on the Brent Spence was not carrying enough of the chemical to be subject to that law.
For Meyer, the fact that the truck involved in the Nov. 11 crash was within the legal limit of hazardous cargo crossing the bridge makes an even stronger case for reexamining the regulations.
"Now we get to say, 'We're lucky we were under that, but maybe that's a sign of some sort," said Meyer. "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?"
Ohio Trucking Association President and CEO Tom Balzer said the regulations surrounding hazardous material cargo can be confusing and pose a challenge for self-regulation on drivers' part.
"(Drivers) do get conflicting reports, and these things do change with a lot of frequency," Balzer said. "I think there was a lot of people that didn't know that the northbound traffic was not allowed for haz mat until people started digging into it."
One such point of confusion Meyer pointed out: a pair of signs seen on I-71/75 northbound where it passes through Covington. One indicates to hazardous material drivers that they are prohibited from using the I-71 Lytle Tunnel north of Fort Washington Way, and the other indicates any truck drivers carrying such materials should stay on I-75 when the two freeways split on the Brent Spence.
Gray said those particular signs are "only in place to direct truck drivers who may have mistakenly gotten that far north in the restricted route."
Meantime, Gray said repairs to the Brent Spence Bridge are moving along as scheduled.
Gray said Wednesday that the damaged upper-deck support beams were removed and the new beams are "firmly in place now." With the new support beams in place, crews will now focus on constructing a new road on the upper deck. The barrier walls on both sides of the upper deck of the bridge have to be replaced also, according to Gray.
Once the upper deck is finished, which Gray estimates will be between Dec. 8 and 10, crews will then work on the lower deck.
Because the damage wasn't as extensive on the lower deck, Gray said, KYTC crews will be hydroblasting and scarifing the lower deck in order to pour a new layer of concrete instead of totally removing the concrete. Once that is finished, the barriers on both sides of the lower deck will be replaced there as well.
Then, the bridge's roads will be painted and it will hopefully reopen.
When asked about the integrity of the bridge, Gray reiterated his past comments about the Brent Spence Bridge being structurally sound.
"Bottom line is," Gray said, "structural integrity is solid... This is a safe and sound and sturdy bridge."
KYTC officials, along with the Ohio-based Kokosing Construction Company, plan to have the work done by Dec. 23.