LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Brent Spence Bridge, the main interstate route between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, could be closed for weeks after a fiery crash involving hazardous chemicals early Wednesday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
Speaking at a midday press conference, Beshear said it appears that a truck carrying potassium hydroxide struck a truck that had jackknifed on the bridge around 2:45 a.m. No injuries were reported.
The collision in the bridge’s lower, northbound Interstate 75/71 lanes caused a fire that has left the span too hot to inspect, Beshear said. He said inspectors won’t begin their work until it is safe to do so; he was hopeful inspections could start later Wednesday.
Beshear said there was visible damage to the bridge deck, or roadway, but that it was too early to know how other structural elements were affected. Photos of the bridge showed several diagonal members of the truss structure that were blackened near the crash site.
“It is too premature to speculate on the impact the fire has had to the bridge,” he said. “The bridge, at best, will be closed several days but we ought to be prepared for more disruption—potentially significantly more disruption than that.”
Drivers who would normally take the Brent Spence are advised to detour using I-471 or I-275.
The future of the bridge has long been the subject of a debate in both states. The aging crossing has no emergency lanes, is considered “functionally obsolete” because its design is outdated and was rated in “fair” condition overall during its last inspection in 2018.
Much like the Louisville region’s effort to build new bridges, a plan to replace the Brent Spence has been stymied by politics and funding in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, including over whether tolls ought to be used.
The Kentucky General Assembly approved a bill in 2017 that essentially bans tolls on the bridge or any other interstate connection with Ohio. Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin had floated the idea of tolls during his administration.
A 2017 study found that replacing or rehabilitating the bridge is needed, along with improvements to the I-275 interchange and widening I-71/I-75. Kentucky’s share of the work was estimated at $1.3 billion.
For now, none of those projects are in Kentucky’s short- or long-term state transportation plans.
Beshear said his administration planned to speak with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday, as well as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
“This is a very important bridge not just for the region but for the nation, and we are committed – fully committed – to getting it back into service. But the safety of the public and of our and Ohio’s employees is absolutely critical.”
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