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Roebling district businesses brace for another bridge closure in effort to curb Brent Spence runoff

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Posted at 4:32 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 12:45:42-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — For the third time in as many years, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge has closed to vehicle traffic, and it has area business manager John Coffey wondering, "What's next?"

The manager of The Gruff, a restaurant situated at the foot of the 154-year-old bridge in Covington, Coffey said he was shocked to see semitrailer drivers ignoring the historic bridge's 11-ton weight limit and crossing as an alternative to the Brent Spence Bridge, which closed Wednesday after a serious fire erupted on its lower deck.

"The last two days, the events that have gone on here are concerning," Coffey said. "We've had construction. We've had the COVID problems being restricted with regards to carryout and things like that; so it's been an interesting year."

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The Gruff manager, John Coffey, photographed Nov. 12, 2020, said every time the Roebling Bridge has to close, it affects his bottom line.

This isn't the neighborhood's first time having to adjust to the closure of its primary entryway. Last year, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet closed the bridge for months after chunks of concrete began falling from its north tower. The year prior, the cabinet had to close the bridge after a driver crashed his car into a vertical steel beam, requiring repairs.

KYTC has planned a repair and restoration project for 2021 that could keep the bridge closed for as long as nine months.

The bridge's closure almost always brings with it a drop in foot traffic among the Historic Licking Riverside District's numerous bars and restaurants, Coffey said.

"When they are not able to get to us across the bridge, things like that, it's something that affects us a great deal," he said.

But he also said the pandemic has encouraged him that The Gruff's loyal customer base has kept the small, locally-owned restaurant afloat during a year that has come with no shortage of challenges.

"We were stunned and amazed by the support we received from the local community during the initial phases of the pandemic," he said.

The Roebling remained open to pedestrian traffic as of Thursday afternoon, and nearby resident Valerie Newell said she'd like to see it stay that way.

"It's just a historic part of Cincinnati that's so important that we preserve it, that we make sure it's cared for, that we make sure it's not injured," she said. "If I had my way, that would be pedestrian-only."

The bridge's opening in 1866 predates automobiles, and it began as a span that only transported people walking and or driving horse-drawn wagons.

The Roebling's indefinite closure also means more traffic diverted to the nearby Veterans Memorial/Fourth Street Bridge spanning the Licking River and connecting Covington and Newport. That bridge was closed earlier this year after an inspection revealed damage to a load-bearing steel member. The bridge reopened several weeks later after repairs were completed.

KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said Thursday his cabinet will reopen the Roebling only after Covington and Cincinnati police demonstrate that they are enforcing the bridge's weight limit.