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November 17, 2020 11:30 AM, EST

Transportation Officials Coordinate Repairs to Brent Spence Bridge

Brent Spence BridgeInspectors gather on the Brent Spence Bridge; repairs are underway. (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet)

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State and federal officials are contributing to an emergency response effort after a truck crash damaged the Brent Spence Bridge, which forms a vital link between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

The double-decker Brent Spence Bridge, named after a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky, carries interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River.

The bridge has been closed since a fiery crash involving two commercial motor vehicles occurred Nov. 11, when a northbound truck jackknifed on the lower deck of the bridge. A second truck, carrying potassium hydroxide, crashed into the first truck, causing a fire. Commonly known as lye, potassium hydroxide is used in various chemical, industrial and manufacturing applications, according to the National Library of Medicine.

According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, 400 gallons of diesel fueled the fire, which has been contained. There were no reports of serious injuries or fatalities.

Since Nov. 12, a team of approximately 20 inspectors and engineers has been examining and testing damaged elements of the bridge’s steel superstructure and concrete decking. KYTC announced Nov. 16 that it had awarded a contract to Kokosing Construction Co. to repair the bridge. The company, based in Westerville, Ohio, aims to have the bridge reopened by Dec. 23.

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According to KYTC, engineers sent steel samples from the bridge to a metallurgical lab in Louisville on Nov. 13 to conduct microscopic analysis to ensure the metal was not compromised at a chemical level. The lab testing, along with specialists’ examination of the metal’s hardness on site, confirmed that the components maintained their integrity.

“There’s a lot of work that’s going on here onsite, and there’s a lot of work behind the scenes at the laboratory, but also at the engineers’ offices, where they’re developing the plans for the repairs,” KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said in a Nov. 14 video update. “A lot of people are engaged in this effort.”

In response to the damaged bridge, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the availability of $12 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds Nov. 13 to help begin repairs. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the bridge carries about 165,000 vehicles per day.

“These funds will help the safe and timely repair of the Brent Spence Bridge, which is such an important transportation link between Kentucky and Ohio and one of the busiest freight corridors in our nation,” Chao said.

Kentucky transportation officials and the U.S. Coast Guard reopened the Ohio River to navigational traffic Nov. 14. The river had been closed as a safety precaution until the metallurgical test was processed.

As of Nov. 13, KYTC had opened a single northbound lane of I-71/75 from the I-275 interchange to 5th Street in Covington, which is located across the Brent Spence Bridge from Cincinnati. KYTC spokeswoman Nancy Wood emphasized this lane availability is for local traffic only. Trucks and Ohio-bound traffic must rely on I-275, which forms a beltway around Cincinnati, as a detour.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of the Brent Spence Bridge and the entire I-71 and I-75 corridor,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said. “We are committed to reopening this bridge as quickly as we can, provided it is fully safe for everyone that would cross it. I want to emphasize our need for patience and also planning for your personal and business disruption that’s going to be occurring for at least the next several weeks.”

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