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OKI Wanna Know: Why Doesn't I-471 Get More Traffic Diverted From I-71/75?

Bill Rinehart
The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge is named for the founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone, which later merged with the Boy Scouts of America.

This summer, our feature OKI Wanna Know answered a handful of questions about local interstates. WVXU's Bill Rinehart wasn't happy with one of the answers, so he kept digging for this latest installment.

Ben Lohmuller of Reading asked about the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge and whether it could be used to lighten the load of another bridge over the Ohio River.

"Why can't they divert the I-71 traffic over 471 and 275 and relieve some traffic off the Brent Spence Bridge? We've got a perfectly good highway bridge here. Why don't we use it as often?"

"There's a big history that's involved," says the Ohio Department of Transportation's District 8 spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller. "A huge history with all the interstate construction. So can I take you on a little journey?"

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
KYTC photos from 1972 show the construction of the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge.

She's involved in the story because I-471 reaches over the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio. It connects I-71, US 50 and Fort Washington Way in Cincinnati with I-275 in Kentucky. Fuller says the story starts about 70 years ago, with planning for local expressways.

"We're in the post-war era, we have urban sprawl now going out and beyond the borders, the confines of these cities, and there's more traffic."

In 1954 and 1956, Congress approved a pair of transportation bills that would fund construction of what is now the interstate system. Fuller drew a map of Ohio and Northern Kentucky with the biggest cities included.

"We've got Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Lexington and Louisville. So we play connect the dots."

Fuller's map shows a big, if lopsided X, with Cincinnati at the intersection. One of the arms of the X represents I-71 and the other I-75. Fuller says in the early 1960s, there was talk about growing the local freeway system, and that eventually led to the building of 275 and 471.

Kathleen Fuller's map of the interstate system that connected Ohio and Kentucky.
Bill Rinehart
Kathleen Fuller's map of the interstate system that connected Ohio and Kentucky.

Nancy Wood is the public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, District 6. She says when I-471 and the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge were built, routing I-71 traffic south toward 275 and away from the Brent Spence Bridge was a possibility.

"But there was just so much development, it was kind of costly, and even now, there's more development that it would be hard to conceive that," she says. There are a lot of buildings on the Cincinnati side, and a lot of ramps - to 71, Columbia Parkway, Fort Washington Way, and Cincinnati streets including Third and Sixth."

Kathleen Fuller with ODOT says that's a lot of exits to have to change. "If all that capacity, truck traffic, everything was changed, and designated as 471 to 71, if that were the designation, coming northbound would be a huge challenge. Southbound, doable. But people have the option. Regardless of what's taking place with the Brent Spence Bridge, they can always take 471."

Or even 275 around the area, Fuller says.

There's another consideration according to Nancy Wood. "The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge now carries daily traffic, within a 24-hour period, 91,000 vehicles now."

She says if that increased, the bridge would qualify as functionally obsolete. Which is the status of the Brent Spence Bridge. "So if we moved more traffic over there we'd just be creating kind of what we're trying to remedy with the Brent Spence Bridge corridor," she says.

Wood says the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge was last painted in 2004, which was when a lot of maintenance was taken care of. Similar to the project that's underway on the Brent Spence Bridge right now.

"We're going to have this new fresh coat of paint. It's routine maintenance. It's the third time the bridge has been repainted since it was opened in 1963."

Wood says that work should be done, and all of the Brent Spence lanes reopened, in November.

If you have a question and don't know where to get an answer, try asking OKI Wanna Know by filling out the form below. We may answer it in a future episode.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.