[Photo courtesy www.cincyimages.com]

I-71/75 BRENT SPENCE BRIDGE
The Brent Spence Bridge is typical of the cantilever truss design, with a main span of 830.5ft. and approach spans each measuring 453ft.  It opened in November of 1963 with its two decks striped for three lanes each, however their emergency shoulders were eliminated in 1986 and the decks restriped for four lanes.   Traffic has overwhelmed the bridge for decades, and its future is uncertain.  The prospect of its replacement is currently under study, and including associated approaches and interchanges is currently estimated to cost $750 million.  It is unlikely that new construction will begin before 2010.  The upcoming project is discussed in the Brent Spence Replacement article.


This postcard from around 1984 shows the bridge's original Covington approach, sporting just two
through lanes in each direction.  Piers appear to have been built at the time of the bridge's construction
anticipating restriping of the bridge decks and reconfiguration of the approaches.


I-75 is among the world's most important roadways and the second busiest Interstate Highway.  Since 1970 I-71 has been routed over the bridge as well.  But the bulk of traffic seen daily on the bridge is a result of the tremendous suburban growth that the bridge and I-71/75 enabled in Northern Kentucky.   After the expressway opened, access to the hilly countryside just south of downtown Cincinnati was greatly improved, and the area was soon overrun by the predictable mix of subdivisions, shopping centers, apartment complexes, office parks, and light industry.  Aside from the expressway, much of the area's growth was spurred by the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, located about six miles from the bridge, and it is reasonable to assume that had the region's airport been built north of the river, the bridge would not have become the bottleneck it is today. 



A nearby electric substation complicates new bridge plans.
[August 1, 2005 Jake Mecklenborg]

Despite its bad reputation, northbound I-71/75 and the Brent Spence Bridge form one of the most dramatic approaches to any city in the United States. The panoramic hillside approach and descent to the bridge show off the downtown Cincinnati skyline and its surrounding hills at their most impressive angle.  And after fifteen miles of monotonous suburbs, drivers are suddenly surrounded by the 19th century scale of Covington, with brick row buildings and traditional city blocks lining either side of the expressway.


2004 view of I-71/75 through Covington.
[www.cincyimages.com]

I-75's Ohio River crossing was originally planned to be built about a mile west, parallel to the Cincinnati Southern Railroad Bridge  in Ludlow.  For those familiar with local topography, the advantages of this route paralleling the railroad are obvious, as it descends a much more relaxed grade to the river and the Kentucky side bridge approach would have mowed down far fewer buildings.   About four total miles would have been built differently to accommodate the different bridge location.  North of the river, the I-71 split could have been much better engineered, with the functional equivalent of Ft. Washington Way built at Liberty St. or more likely Central Parkway.   Covington boosters fought for the expressway even though it required demolition of hundreds of the city's buildings, the treacherous Covington "Death Hill" and its subsequent reconstruction in the early 1990's, and caused a cramping of the I-71 split north of the bridge in Cincinnati.


Yellow shows originally planned 1950's "Ludlow" routing of I-75.  This graphic shows how the
Ludlow Routing, if built today, could function in tandem with the existing expressway.
 

Brent Spence Tunnel?
Originally a tunnel was proposed for the river crossing in this location, as part of the expressway network Cincinnati designed in 1947 and planned to build with state and local funds before the Federal Interstate Highway Act passed in 1956. Had the tunnel been built it would likely have been no more than four total lanes divided between two tubes and the expressway itself would have been built to crude pre-interstate standards. Had it later been designated as interstate 71/75 it would have become quickly overloaded in a fashion similar to Boston's recently demolished I-93. Had it not been designated an interstate, the tunnel and its primitive expressway would have become a pre-interstate relic in the Cincinnati road network akin to the Western Hills Viaduct or Columbia Parkway.
 

                            Tunnel under the Ohio? Idea considered in 1955
                                        The Kentucky Post  2-15-97
                                                 [no author listed]
 
                             Today most people take the Ohio River bridges for
                             granted. The only time one thinks much about them is
                             when an accident happens or repairs delay traffic.

                             But in 1955 bridges were front-page news.  Five bridges
                             spanned the Ohio River between Northern Kentucky and
                             Cincinnati in 1955. In Covington there were the
                             Suspension and C&O bridges. In Newport there were the
                             Central and L&N bridges. And in Ludlow there was the
                             Southern Bridge, which was limited to railroad
                             traffic.

                             All five bridges were built in the 1800s with the
                             first, the Suspension Bridge, opening to pedestrians
                             in 1866.

                             By 1955 decision-makers were asking whether Northern
                             Kentucky needed another bridge, and if so, where it
                             should be located.

                             In Northern Kentucky, many felt construction of
                             another bridge was long overdue. A lobbying effort was
                             started to persuade state officials to finance a
                             bridge. The existing five bridges had all been built
                             by private companies.

                             The proposed bridge was to cross the Ohio River
                             somewhere near where Willow Run Creek empties into the
                             Ohio River. Proponents saw such a bridge as part of a
                             larger scheme to develop a super highway, possibly
                             with limited access, that would connect the new
                             airport in Boone County more directly to Cincinnati.

                             By 1955, routes for a road were studied. One would
                             have followed the old street car route up through Park
                             Hills and Ft. Mitchell.

                             In June 1955, state Rep. Thomas P. Fitzpatrick tossed
                             a curve ball into the debate. The representative from
                             Kenton County proposed that instead of a bridge, the
                             state should consider tunneling under the Ohio River
                             just east of where the C&0 Bridge crossed the Ohio
                             River.

                             Fitzpatrick said the tunnel could go under Third
                             Street or even Fifth Street in Covington and come out
                             in Cincinnati wherever Ohio officials felt was most
                             appropriate. He said a tunnel might address Cincinnati
                             concerns about another bridge dumping traffic onto its
                             riverfront area.

                             Fitzpatrick added, ''Kentucky should keep its sights
                             focused on progress at all times and this, in my
                             opinion, is certainly a progressive move for obvious
                             reasons.''

                             The Kentucky Post called for a conference between
                             Kentucky and Ohio officials to discuss the best way to
                             span the Ohio River and to promote quicker access from
                             Cincinnati to Boone County. A conference was held on
                             July 20 and included state and local officials from
                             both Kentucky and Ohio. Covington Mayor John Moloney
                             hosted the meeting.

                             The tunnel proposal received mixed reactions, but Ohio
                             Gov. Frank Lausche thought enough of the concept to
                             order his state's highway department to study the
                             feasibility of a tunnel.

                             Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, started a letter-writing
                             campaign to keep the tunnel idea alive. He said
                             engineers indicated a tunnel was feasible and
                             practical. As to cost, Fitzpatrick admitted he had no
                             estimate of what it would take to build a tunnel, but
                             he speculated it would be ''a lot of millions.''

                             Fitzpatrick said the higher construction costs of a
                             tunnel would be offset by fewer maintenance expenses
                             from wind, rain and storm damage.

                             Former Gov. A. B. ''Happy'' Chandler, a candidate
                             again for governor in 1955, lent his support to some
                             type of new ''structure'' across the Ohio River at
                             Covington. A spokesman said the word ''structure'' was
                             used because Chandler wasn't sure whether a bridge or
                             tunnel would be better.

                             Among the biggest critics of the tunnel proposal was
                             Cincinnati City Engineer T. J. Montgomery. He said the
                             1937 flood had demonstrated the Ohio River could
                             expand much further than previously predicted and
                             entrances for a tunnel would have to be built far
                             enough away from the river to stay dry at flood levels
                             of up to 84 feet.

                             Montgomery said the flooding problem was especially a
                             Northern Kentucky concern as the ground in Covington
                             remained relatively level for a great distance from
                             the river.

                             The Kentucky Post came out against the tunnel concept,
                             saying a tunnel study would only delay construction
                             and confuse Kenton County voters. At the time Kenton
                             voters were being asked to approve a bond issue for
                             the proposed new airport highway.

                             In July 1955 Gov. Lawrence Wetherby announced his
                             support for a bridge, rather than a tunnel. Ohio
                             officials latered also endorsed the bridge concept.

                             Fitzpatrick said the tunnel critics were rejecting the
                             concept for political reasons. Fitzpatrick said
                             Wetherby was supporting Bert Combs for governor and
                             Combs backed a new bridge. Chandler and Combs were
                             squaring off that year in the Democratic primary for
                             governor, which Chandler won.

                             While the project to build either a bridge or tunnel
                             languished, Kenton County voters approved a $1 million
                             bond issue in 1955 to buy land for the limited access
                             road through the county for the proposed
                             airport-to-Cincinnati road.

                             Then both the bridge-tunnel talk and the new highway
                             were put on hold. The reason was plans by federal
                             officials for a nationwide expressway system that were
                             to include the proposed access road from Cincinnati to
                             the airport in the expressway route.

                             The expressway plans delayed work for a couple more
                             years. It was not until 1957 that the purchase of
                             expressway right-of-way between Covington and
                             Lexington was authorized.

                             Interstate 75 in Covington was built over Willow Run
                             Creek as originally proposed in the access road plan.
                             And on the site of the proposed 1955 bridge-tunnel the
                             Brent Spence Bridge was built. Named after the 16-term
                             Democratic congressman, it opened Nov. 25, 1963.

                             Bert Combs, meanwhile, defeated by Chandler in 1955,
                             won the election for governor in 1959. The Interstate
                             275 bridge over the Ohio River at Coney Island was
                             named for him and Campbell County Judge Lambert Hehl.
 

                             TUNNEL PROPOSAL DIDN'T HURT FITZPATRICK IN POLITICAL
                             ARENA
                             While some politicians might have suffered politically
                             for proposing a river tunnel, Thomas P. Fitzpatrick's
                             political star wasn't tarnished.

                             Fitzpatrick, best known as ''Timmy,'' continued to be
                             a colorful and respected Democratic politician in
                             Northern Kentucky.

                             In his younger days Fitzpatrick was a highly regarded
                             lightweight boxer. He later became a boxing referee
                             and promoter.

                             During World War I, he served in the Navy. He entered
                             politics in 1933, when he ran and was elected state
                             representative from Kenton County. Fitzpatrick was
                             subsequently re-elected to four consecutive terms.

                             In 1943, Fitzpatrick ran for Covington mayor on an
                             anti-administration ticket and defeated R. E.
                             Culbertson, 7,115 to 4,459. Fitzpatrick followed that
                             up in 1947 by being

                             elected Kenton County sheriff. When his term as
                             sheriff was completed, Fitzpatrick retired from
                             politics, but only for a couple of years. He returned
                             to the state legislature in 1954.

                             Upon his return, Fitzpatrick was elected to three more
                             terms in the Kentucky House. He was chosen House
                             speaker in 1956 and in 1959 returned as House speaker
                             after Morris Weintraub of Newport stepped down.

                             Fitzpatrick was at a legislative session in 1962 when
                             he became ill with asthma and was admitted to King's
                             Daughters Hospital in Frankfort. He died at St.
                             Elizabeth Hospital in Covington on June 22, 1962.

                             An editorial in The Kentucky Post on June 25, 1962,
                             said Fitzpatrick was a good political organizer and
                             astute in keeping up with the interests of his
                             constituents. As a legislator, The Kentucky Post said
                             Fitzpatrick had a statewide reputation as a champion
                             of home rule, who spoke his mind and always let people
                             know where he stood on issues.
 

                             The study of Northern Kentucky history is an avocation
                             of staff writer Jim Reis, who covers suburban Kenton
                             County for The Kentucky Post.

                             Publication date: 12-15-97
 
 



1. Recent Brent Spence Bridge Photos

2. Brent Spence Replacement Page

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