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Transportation officials brace for heavy Thanksgiving traffic with Brent Spence Bridge closed

Posted at 6:25 PM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 18:45:46-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Drivers will face their first holiday travel season without the Brent Spence Bridge this week, after the major interstate thoroughfare was shut down almost two weeks ago due to a semi crash that damaged both decks of the 57-year-old bridge.

There was no construction noise up there Tuesday, with crews at a different location working on the steel that will repair the bridge.

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Dr. Jack Marchbanks said he got the call 13 days ago alerting him to a fire on the Brent Spence Bridge, which he called one of the most important bridges in the entire Great Lakes region.

Two semis had collided on the slick road and caught on fire. The drivers escaped with no injuries. One of the trucks was carrying potassium hydroxide that ignited, making it a difficult blaze for fire crews to extinguish.

MORE: State of emergency in Kenton Co. with Brent Spence Bridge closed indefinitely

Authorities believe contractors can repair the bridge and reopen it by Dec. 23, during another busy holiday travel season.

Now, Marchbanks and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray said they are concerned holiday drivers will cause a longer backup than usual.

RELATED: How to get around the Tri-State while the Brent Spence is closed

If you are driving up I-75 in Northern Kentucky, the Fifth Street exit will take you to Ohio. Meanwhile, Ohio drivers should take I-275 to get around.

“That is the safest way for them to get through as they’re moving through this area during the holiday season,” Marchbanks said.

Even after the holidays and after the bridge is repaired, the Brent Spence Bridge remains a transportation quagmire: It was never designed to carry the volume of traffic that crosses it daily.

“It's functionally obsolete because of its design, but it is sturdy,” Marchbanks said.

Gray said the plan has always been to build a “companion bridge” to relieve the congestion that's on the Brent Spence today.

"When we build a companion bridge, we will continue to use the Brent Spence Bridge and, in fact, improve it as a part of the companion bridge being built,” Marchbanks added.

The pair did not say when construction on a companion bridge would begin, since the Brent Spence is already closed and drivers are getting used to detours.

Gray is expected to give another update on the bridge’s progress Wednesday morning.

Find more WCPO 9 News coverage on the Brent Spence Bridge, including detours, traffic and construction updates, at our Brent Spence Bridge tab.