The Brent Spence Bridge damaged after fire

The Brent Spence Bridge, which is the main interstate route between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, was the site of a fiery crash involving hazardous chemicals early Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Courtesy of @KYTCDistrict6 on Twitter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The fire that closed northern Kentucky’s Brent Spence Bridge started after two tractor trailers collided early on November 11. Officials have said the fire “burned intensely” in part because a truck that struck a jack-knifed semi was carrying potassium hydroxide.

That chemical is considered a hazardous material, according to federal rules that govern potentially flammable and caustic cargo.

In 2013, federal documents show, Kentucky designated Interstate 75 north of I-275 as a route where shipments of all hazardous materials are forbidden. That stretch of I-75 includes the lower section of the double-decked Brent Spence Bridge, according to official maps.

The designation remains listed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – the only such restriction in the state.

Yet it’s not common knowledge, even among large trucking groups whose members include companies that move such materials. Top officials with the Kentucky Trucking Association and the Ohio Trucking Association said this week they were not aware of any such restricted routes in Kentucky.

Nor was Covington Mayor Joe Meyer, who said the city's police and fire departments also didn't know about the ban. Meyer said city officials will likely work closely with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for interstate signs and better notice to trucking companies.

"Obviously, we've got to do a better job going forward of both communicating and then enforcing the ban on hazardous material," he said. 

The Transportation Cabinet confirmed Wednesday morning that northbound I-75 from I-275 has the hazmat restrictions, including on the 57-year-old bridge that connects Covington, Ky., and Cincinnati, in response to questions posed by WDRB News on Monday.

A spokeswoman said in an email that the quantity of potassium hydroxide being hauled determines whether the vehicle requires a hazmat placard – and therefore enacting the hazmat route restrictions.

“The amount of potassium hydroxide transported in the vehicle involved in the crash was significantly lower than what is necessary to warrant a hazmat placard,” the spokeswoman, Naitore Djigbenou, said.

In a briefing with reporters later Wednesday morning, Transportation Cabinet officials acknowledged that there are no signs in Kentucky notifying drivers carrying hazardous cargo of the restrictions, saying that individual drivers and companies are responsible for knowing the regulations.

Bob Yeager, chief district engineer for the cabinet's Covington office, said signs typically aren't posted for hazmat restrictions. That's similar, he said, to the state's approach for lane widths or weight or height limits. 

"Those are all done by regulation, and it's upon the trucking companies to look at their routes before they go on any routes," he said. 

Repairs on the Brent Spence Bridge have begun and are expected to be complete by December 23, the target date for reopening the span. 

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said Wednesday that stringers, or steel beams, began arriving Friday at the work site. Crews plan to remove a damaged section of the upper deck, or roadway, and replace both the concrete and the steel supports beneath. 

The cost of the work isn't yet known, Gray told reporters, but he noted that  $12 million in emergency repair funds from the Federal Highway Administration will serve as a "downpayment" on the project. 

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