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Brent Spence project must 'invest smartly' in infrastructure and technology, leaders say

a bridge deck with no cars on it
Ambriehl Crutchfield
Brent Spence Bridge

A status update on the long-awaited Brent Spence companion bridge project highlighted this week's Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments Conference on Freight.

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray were the keynote speakers at a Wednesday luncheon. They opened by reflecting on how the replacement project is a key priority for both states — and the chief executives of both states — and how the two transportation leaders' friendship was "forged" by the 2020 firethat closed the Brent Spence for 41 days.

"It was like a foxhole moment," Marchbanks said. "Secretary Gray and I were buddies after that."

"Relationships are often forged under fire, and this one was literally forged under fire," Gray agreed.

RELATED: Brent Spence Bridge project now has design-build contractors, a sign ‘we’re moving forward’

The two states are finally beginning work on a $3.6 billion plan to build a second bridge spanning the Ohio River at Cincinnati to help carry interstates 75 and 71 between Ohio and Kentucky. The project received a major shot in the arm late last year when the federal government awarded it a $1.6 billion grant. Both Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said they were confident the project would be completed on time and on budget over the next several years.

The companion bridge is slated to open in 2029.

Gray points out the project is a "progressive design build," meaning, "we have brought the construction team into the project earlier to work collaboratively in the design of the project with the engineers. Instead of waiting and engineering the full project and then putting it out for construction bids and not having the benefit of the contractor's involvement and information sharing and suggestions, through this process they're coming in earlier and will be able to help us with these project management decisions like, for example, the maintenance of traffic."

A supplemental environmental review is currently underway, according to Marchbanks.

"Our team is right now in the middle of public involvement. We're welcoming all comments from the public, both on the Kentucky side and the Ohio side."

Safety is also key, he said.

"The conservative projection is that this additional span will reduce 150 crashes per year, saving lives, reducing serious injury, both for those civilian drivers and those freight drivers. We can't lose sight of the safety impact of what we're doing as well."

Marchbanks indicated more announcements on the project could be coming in spring 2024.

Technology will be a key part of the project, he added, noting a team recently traveled to Michigan's border with Canada to learn about the technology going into the new Gordie Howe International Bridge being built as a companion to the nearby Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

The state leaders' comments were tailored largely to the gathering of freight-related attendees.

Marchbanks said the states must invest smartly in infrastructure and technology.

"What we're looking at here, with technology increasing the velocity — the throughput — of freight in this region, it would be suicidal for us as a region to not address freight movement through the Queen City and, of course, across the river into the mid-south and even further south. We see technology actually increasing the velocity of the throughput."

RELATED: Cincinnati Council, mayor advocate for a better-designed Brent Spence Bridge corridor

As WVXU previously reported, Ohio and Kentucky officials announced in July that The Walsh Group and Kokosing Construction Company will lead the work on the long-awaited Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project. The announcement marks the next major step in the decades-long effort to update one of the nation's busiest routes for commerce and commuter travel.

Walsh and Kokosing will collaborate on the $3.1 billion contract for designing and building a companion bridge to the west of the Brent Spence Bridge and revamping six miles of roadway around it, including a number of highway interchanges. Kokosing led repair efforts on the bridge after the fiery 2020 wreck that shut it down.

Workers completed the Brent Spence in the 1960s. It was designed to carry roughly 80,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River on I-71 and I-75, but currently carries about twice that — as well as an estimated $2 billion in freight every day.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.
Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.