[Photo courtesy www.cincyimages.com]

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 wouldnot 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-71/75and the Brent Spence Bridge form one of the most dramatic approaches toany city in the United States. The panoramic hillside approach anddescentto the bridge show off the downtown Cincinnati skyline and itssurroundinghills at their most impressive angle.  And after fifteen miles ofmonotonous suburbs, drivers are suddenly surrounded by the 19th centuryscale of Covington, with brick row buildings and traditional cityblocks lining either side of the expressway.

2004 view of I-71/75 through Covington.

I-75's Ohio River crossing was originally planned tobebuilt about a mile west, parallel to the CincinnatiSouthern Railroad Bridge  inLudlow. For those familiar with local topography, the advantages of this routeparalleling the railroad are obvious, as it descends a much morerelaxedgrade to the river and the Kentucky side bridge approach would havemoweddown far fewer buildings.   About four total miles would havebeen built differently to accommodate the different bridgelocation. North of the river, the I-71 split could have been much betterengineered,with the functional equivalent of Ft. Washington Way built at LibertySt.or more likely Central Parkway.   Covington boosters foughtforthe expressway even though it required demolition of hundreds of thecity'sbuildings, the treacherous Covington "Death Hill" and its subsequentreconstruction in the early 1990's, and caused a cramping of the I-71splitnorth 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 crossingin this location, as part of the expressway network Cincinnati designedin 1947 and planned to build with state and local funds before theFederalInterstate Highway Act passed in 1956. Had the tunnel been built itwouldlikely have been no more than four total lanes divided between twotubesand the expressway itself would have been built to crude pre-interstatestandards. Had it later been designated as interstate 71/75 it wouldhavebecome quickly overloaded in a fashion similar to Boston's recentlydemolished I-93. Had itnot been designated an interstate, the tunnel and its primitiveexpresswaywould have become a pre-interstate relic in the Cincinnati road networkakin to the WesternHills 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

                            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

                            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

                            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.

                            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

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