The costs for cleaning up, engineering, repairing, testing and otherwise getting the Brent Spence I-71/75 bridge back open is expected to be under $12 million. That's how much the Federal Highway Administration made available in "quick release" Emergency Relief funds following the November wreck that shut down the major travel artery.
"I don't want to be premature," says Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray, "but we have a good sense now of the cost. We know that we will be below the quick release numbers of $12 million. How much? We still don't know."
The repairs remain on schedule for a Dec. 23 reopening, according to Gray. The final concrete pour on the lower deck is slated for Friday.
"Even with the forecast of winter weather, the contractors have put plans in place to create an appropriate environment for the concrete to cure and to harden," Gray says, adding new lane stripes and final inspections round out the remaining items on the to-do list.
"The folks on this project knew we had to repair the bridge and bring it back to a condition which is safe, sturdy and solid, and that is exactly what has been done," he says.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is using the bridge closure to take care of some other maintenance work like cleaning the bridge signage, road repairs on the northbound bridge approach, and some drainage repair work.
Gray repeated it's still too early to have a final answer of what caused the two-semi crash leading to the inferno that shut the bridge. It's has been closed since Nov. 11. When asked about the possibility of pursuing insurance claims on the trucking companies involved, Gray echoed his previous statements, saying "we will exhaust any means that we have, of course, to find any remedies associated with any insurance claims. But, that's not yet determined, those investigations are still underway."
Similarly, Gray contends it's too soon to announce what, if any, changes could or should be made to prevent future incidents on the bridge. The damage was so severe because one of the trucks was carrying potassium hydroxide, which caused the fire to burn at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, Gray and others have said the truck wasn't breaking any laws by being on the bridge because it wasn't carrying enough potassium hydroxide to be considered hazardous.
"The truck that was on the bridge was allowed to be on the bridge, that's by law," Gray reiterates. "Any improvements that can be made are being examined. It's, at this time, premature to say what, if any, adjustments that might be made will be made."
Plans are still underway for how Ohio and Kentucky will reopen the bridge and its access points. KYTC District 6 Chief Engineer Bob Yeager says, ideally, the opening won't be during peak travel times like morning or afternoon rush hours, though the goal is to open it as soon as possible.
"We have about eight miles of traffic control along the I-75 corridor and that's just in Northern Kentucky," Yeager says. "Cincinnati also has a number of ramps and things that are closed. Once we get the OK that everything is out of the way - all the equipment is out of the way - and everything has been done, we plan to open it up one lane at a time."
The reopening will start from the point of the closure and work outward until everything is reopen, Yeager says.
Could A New Administration Mean A Second Bridge?
Shortly before Wednesday's Brent Spence repair update, President-elect Joe Biden formally announced former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his choice to be secretary of transportation. Gray was asked about that pick and what it could mean for transportation projects like a long-awaited companion bridge for the Brent Spence.
Gray says he got to know Buttigieg when Gray was mayor of Lexington. He praises Biden's pick, saying Buttigieg "understands the dynamics of cities and the challenges of transportation that are associated with cities, and not just cities, but rural parts of our country."
Gray adds he's hopeful for an infrastructure bill that will provide the funds needed to make important updates. When pressed more specifically about the Brent Spence Bridge, he says "I'm optimistic this is going to be a transportation secretary who is going to do his best to help all parts of the country, and my hope is that it will be Northern Kentucky and (the) Cincinnati region as well."