History of the Brent Spence Bridge

Timeline created by Cincinnati Enquirer
In History
  • Brent Spence Bridge opens

    The Brent Spence Bridge opens to traffic after nearly three years of construction. It’s named for Congressman Brent Spence, a Democrat from Newport who served 31 years in the U.S. House. The $10 million project is the first new Ohio River bridge in Cincinnati since 1891. Designed to carry 80,000 vehicles daily, the bridge carried about 32,000 vehicles in its first 24 hours.
  • Bridge dedicated

    Brent Spence Bridge is dedicated. The ceremony was delayed from Nov. 25 due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The event featured speeches, fireworks, and a 21-gun salute in honor of the late president.
  • Traffic increases

    1971: Traffic on the bridge increases significantly with the opening of Interstate 71, which merges with I-75 in Cincinnati to cross the bridge south into Northern Kentucky.
  • Traffic reaches 101,000 vehicles daily

    1985: Traffic on the Brent Spence reaches 101,000 vehicles daily. Kentucky begins a $15.5 million project to alleviate congestion. The emergency shoulders are removed to make way for a fourth lane of traffic on each deck of the bridge, and the lanes are narrowed from 12 to 11 feet wide. The project is completed in 1986 and increases capacity to 100,000 vehicles daily.
  • Bridge at 91 percent capacity

    The Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments launches a two-year study of traffic on the I-71 corridor and its impact upon the bridge. By 1995, average daily traffic had grown to nearly 133,000 vehicles per day and is at 91 percent capacity. The OKI study finds the bridge “has 12 to 16 years of useful life,” and experts say signs of fatigue will begin to show after that time.
  • New bridge proposed

    May 1997: The OKI study is completed and concludes that the Brent Spence is overloaded. For the first time, building a new bridge is proposed.
  • Brent Spence declared functionally obsolete

    1998: National Bridge Inventory declares Brent Spence Bridge functionally obsolete, a term for bridges built to standards that are not used today. Criteria include too-narrow lanes, too-narrow shoulders or none at all, and too-low vertical clearances.
  • Truck ban lifted

    December 1999: A two-year truck ban on I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge is lifted, and Northern Kentucky police officials warn that will lead to wrecks, traffic jams and dangerous driving conditions. The ban had been in place for the construction of Fort Washington Way in Cincinnati and extensive repairs to the Brent Spence Bridge.
  • OKI reccomends $300 million for new bridge

    September 2001: OKI’s 2030 Transportation Plan recommends $300 million for a new five-lane bridge to replace the Brent Spence.
  • Lucas secures money for study

    April 2002: Congressman Ken Lucas, D-Boone County, secures $1.9 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether the Brent Spence Bridge should be replaced or rehabilitated.
  • Kentucky launches engineering study

    Jan. 2003: Kentucky launches a $2 million, 30-month engineering study to determine the best options for replacing or renovating the bridge. Also in 2003, local political and business leaders begin an aggressive public push to secure federal funding for the project. The cost is estimated at $500 million.
  • Senators secure money for studies, design work

    November 2004: Greater Cincinnati U.S senators secure $4 million for studies and design work on the Brent Spence project.
  • Project estimate reaches $750 million

    December 2004: Ohio and Kentucky transportation officials agree to co-manage the environmental study phase of the project, which is estimated to cost $18 million and take more than four years. The total cost of the project is now estimated at $750 million.
  • Bridge carries 155,000 vehicles daily

    January 2005: Ohio and Kentucky transportation officials release a report saying the Brent Spence can carry its current traffic load indefinitely as long as it is properly maintained. The report contradicts a 1997 study that says the bridge had only 12 to 16 years of useful life left. By 2005, the bridge carries about 155,000 vehicles daily.
  • NKY Chamber lobbies Congress

    February 2005: The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a top advocate for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge, begins lobbying members of Congress from other states for the project during its annual lobbying trips to Washington, D.C.
  • Bunning, Voinovich and Davis secure $45.6 million

    July 2005: In a major coup for the Brent Spence Bridge project, U.S. Sens. Jim Bunning and George Voinovich and Congressman Geoff Davis secure $45.6 million in the 2005 federal transportation bill. The bulk, $35 million, was secured by Bunning, and Davis calls for the bridge’s eventual replacement to be named for him.
  • Preliminary plans presented, cost estimate at $1.5 billion

    March 2006: Transportation officials present five preliminary plans for the Brent Spence Bridge project and hold open houses in May to gather public input. The cost of the project is now estimated at $1.5 billion, including design, property acquisition and construction. The timeline calls for construction to begin in 2015.
  • Replacement cost estimates rise to $2 to $3 billion

    October 2006: Cost of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement is now estimated at between $2 and $3 billion as the scope of the project grows to include reconstruction of a 6.5-mile stretch of I-75 between the Western Hills Viaduct and Kyles Lane. Officials also cite the increasing cost of fuel, steel and concrete. The estimate is in 2012 dollars, when construction is expected to begin.
  • Tolls proposed

    April 2007: Federal transportation officials announce the federal highway fund will have a deficit by 2009 and urge local officials to “think creatively” about Brent Spence Bridge funding. Tolls are publicly proposed for the first time and draw immediate criticism from political leaders in Kentucky.
  • Minneapolis bridge collapses

    The I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapses into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people. The incident renews calls to fund the Brent Spence Bridge project and sparks talk of again banning trucks from the bridge. OKI studies the issue at the request of Covington officials, but concludes a truck ban isn’t practical or economically feasible and wouldn’t significantly reduce crashes on the bridge.
  • Data reveals high crash rate

    September 2007: Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveals the Brent Spence Bridge had one of the highest crash rates in the nation among “functionally deficient” bridges. Between 1995 and 2003, there were 22.8 wrecks per lane mile on the bridge each year.
  • Officials agree on plan

    April 2009: Officials agree upon a plan to build a new bridge just west of the Brent Spence Bridge. Public hearings are held in May. In June, officials learn that settling upon one route for the new bridge will save time – and money – in required environmental impact studies.
  • Bridge designs unveiled

    February 2010: Officials unveil six proposed designs of the new bridge and solicit public input in order to narrow the choices to three. The response from the public is tepid, as some call for a bridge with a “signature” design. Also in 2010, preliminary plans for the I-75 corridor reconfiguration are unveiled, prompting concern from West Side and Covington residents about the impact upon their communities.
  • Advocates make their case

    September 2010: Advocates of the Brent Spence Bridge project begin making the case that replacing the bridge is vital to the local and national economies. They say the bridge carries more than $400 billion in commerce every year, or nearly 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
  • Westwood man killed on bridge

    Abdoulaye Yattara of Westwood was on his way to work in Florence when his car ran out of gas in the southbound lanes of the Brent Spence Bridge. He was knocked off the bridge after a Good Samaritan pulled up to help and was hit by another car in the process. The incident is at least the second of its kind since 2004, and it renews calls to improve and replace the bridge.
  • Obama mentions bridge

    President Barack Obama mentions the Brent Spence Bridge, though not by name, in a joint address to Congress unveiling a plan to create jobs by investing in infrastructure projects throughout the country.
  • Three designs proposed

    Officials announce they have selected three proposed bridge designs and two proposed corridor configurations for the Brent Spence Bridge project and will present them to the public in February. The estimated cost of the project is nearly $2.4 billion, including between $570 and $646 million for the new bridge.
  • Obama announces Cincinnati visit

    Obama announces he will visit Cincinnati to deliver a speech at the Brent Spence Bridge urging Congress to approve his jobs plan. The plan has come under fire from Congressional leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville.