Roebling Bridge closure still has some Covington commuters scrambling for alternatives

Nearby bridges feeling closure's pinch
Posted at 6:55 AM, Jun 19, 2019

COVINGTON, Ky. — Jesse Near wasn't expecting the commute from his downtown Cincinnati office to his Covington home would take more than 40 minutes one mid-April afternoon. It normally only takes 15 minutes -- maybe 20 on a heavy traffic day.

But this was one of the first afternoons after April 17, when the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge most recently closed to all motor vehicle traffic, including the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky's Southbank Shuttle. Near -- who does not own a car -- relies on the shuttle every weekday morning and afternoon. Like other commuters, he said the bridge's closure has created problems on his trips home from work.

"It probably added maybe 20 minutes to a half-hour" for a less than 3-mile trip, Near said.

Now, officials with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet say the bridge will remain closed for another four weeks while crews install netting as a temporary solution to contain sandstone chunks falling from the bridge's north tower.

Before the bridge's closure, Near would use the Southbank Shuttle -- which picks up passengers every 15 minutes -- for trips between Downtown and Covington. A typical commute time from Covington's Mainstrasse Village to Downtown, or vice versa, would normally peak at 15 minutes or so when using the shuttle.

Now with the Roebling's closure, the Southbank Shuttle diverts to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, which experiences severe backup during the afternoon rush hours to accommodate runoff traffic from the neighboring suspension bridge.

TANK spokeswoman Gina Douthat confirmed the Roebling closure has impacted buses using the Clay Wade Bailey in the afternoons.

For Near, that means more than double his afternoon commute time home from work.

"Now, if I miss the 5:05 (p.m. shuttle from Fountain Square to Covington), I'm not home by 6 (p.m.) -- 100 percent," Near said. Missing the 5:05 means that he has to take the next available shuttle from Downtown at 5:20, which often means more than a 40-minute commute.

The uncertainty caused by the traffic delays makes it difficult for him to make evening plans, Near said: "It's pretty much impossible when you don't know whether or not you'll be back in town before or after 6. Sometimes I'm not even sure when I'll be able to take out the dog on time."

The closure has prompted Near to adapt some of his commute habits, to the extent that he can without owning a car of his own. He now practices extra diligence to make sure he can catch the 5:05 from Fountain Square because he said that departure generally beats the Clay Wade's traffic backup.

"I try to leave five to 10 minutes early in the morning," he said. "I looked into taking the 2X, but it only comes once at 7:30. The shuttle is the most reliable as far as what I have."

There are a number of other TANK routes he could take in the mornings, Douthat said, but he would still end up bogged in the afternoon traffic, as they all connect back to Covington using the Clay Wade Bailey.

It's not just TANK commuters who feel the extra commute times. When open, the Roebling carried more than 8,000 vehicles every day, now diverted to nearby bridges.

As WCPO has previously reported, businesses in the Licking Riverside Historic District have measured a drop in foot traffic through their doors since April.

Covington City Manager David Johnston spoke to the impact on local businesses in a separate news release Tuesday, calling the announcement "good news."

"Our businesses -- especially those located near the bridge -- have felt a substantial negative impact every day that bridge has been shut down, and we've been eagerly awaiting this announcement," he said.

Near also called it "good news," but said he's looking forward to learning more about a more permanent fix, and what it will mean as far as another closure down the road.

"I hope Kentucky officials see just how big an impact it is when any of the bridges are out of commission," he said.