The Brent Spence Bridge was originally built to connect our regions and to create jobs and economic opportunity. Now, it’s hurting our ability to continue growing. More than 75 percent of the one million jobs in the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region are within five miles of I-75.
A new Interstate highway bridge across the Ohio River affects each one of us because this traffic route is a lifeline to our region’s and the nation’s economy and vitality. Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) estimates that building a new bridge will create tens of thousands of new jobs. This includes the construction jobs to build the bridge and the jobs that will result from increased and sustained economic development.
The $2.7-billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project is estimated to support 24,488 jobs throughout Kentucky and Ohio with most of the jobs (23,940 jobs) located in the Cincinnati MSA. These jobs generate an estimated $1.9 billion in labor income across the two states, again with most of the labor income occurring in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky market ($1.8 billion). In addition to the economic activity generated within the region from the construction activity, fiscal impacts to the state and local jurisdictions will occur totaling an estimated $193.1 million.
Reducing congestion is economically productive
Not only will construction of new bridge create new jobs, but it will reduce existing congestion and improve traffic flow across the bridge, which is crucial for keeping existing jobs and attracting new businesses and jobs to our region.
Businesses not only rely on the bridge for transporting their goods — more than $1 billion in freight crosses the bridge every day — but they also rely on the bridge to allow their employees to commute to and from their homes and jobs.
Twenty years after after building a new bridge and related infrastructure improvements, the economic benefit of a new bridge to commuters, shippers, and manufacturers has been estimated at $18.7 billion according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. That’s a 600-percent return on the $2.7-billion investment investment over that time period.
Congestion caused by the Brent Spence Bridge costs 3.6-million person-hours of delay each year for passenger cars and 240,000 vehicle-hours of annual delay for commercial vehicles, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. The study noted that a new bridge would reduce the delay for passenger cars by 80 percent and the delay for commercial vehicles by 88 percent.
Maintaining our economic attractiveness
If our interstate traffic network fails, existing companies will leave the region and new companies will not locate here. Many companies increasingly rely on “just-in-time” delivery. A failed transportation system will discourage economic investment in our community, especially by those companies who rely upon the interstate system to deliver goods and services. Companies will not stay or locate in an area where they are not able to receive or deliver goods and services to customers in a timely fashion.
In addition, companies in our region will have trouble recruiting and keeping quality employees if congestion continues and employees’ commute time continues to increase.
The 50-year-old Brent Spence Bridge is one of the most dangerous bridges in the interstate highway system
Seven years after it opened to traffic on Interstate 75 in 1963, vehicles from the newly constructed Interstate 71 also were routed over the bridge. Suddenly, a bridge that was designed to carry only 80,000 vehicles per day was handling traffic well over its designed capacity. Today, the Brent Spence Bridge carries more than 172,000 vehicles a day — more than double its capacity – and that number is expected to exceed 200,000 vehicles a day by 2025.
When the double-decker bridge was originally constructed, it had three traffic lanes in both directions and emergency lanes on both decks. However, because of increased traffic and congestion, transportation officials removed all of the bridge’s emergency lanes and added another traffic lane to each deck in 1985. This narrowed the now four traffic lanes on each deck to 11 feet in width.
Federal Highway Administration regulations require a minimum of 12 feet in travel lanes and emergency lanes of at least 10 feet on both sides of the travel lanes. Because of these deficiencies, poor signage, and other factors, federal transportation officials have designated the Brent Spence Bridge as being “functionally obsolete.”
A dangerous and unsafe span
The Brent Spence Bridge has one of the highest crash rates for interstate highway bridges. An average of 50 vehicles crash on the bridge each year. In the past decade, three people have been killed on the bridge either because their vehicles broke down or they were behind someone whose vehicle had stopped. In addition, many others have been killed and injured on the approaches to the bridge.
Commuters are three to five times more likely to wreck on the Brent Spence Bridge than any other section of interstate in the tri-state region.
As the bridge ages, more safety issues are expected to arise. In June 2011, chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck to the lower deck of bridge. While no one was injured in this incident, it caused an hours-long delay while highway officials inspected the bridge and made repairs.
“The bridge is an accident waiting to happen,” said former Covington Police Chief Lee Russo. “It has limited visibility. People are constantly jockeying for lanes because they have to make quick choices for their alternate routes, which are not clearly marketed. The short entrance ramp from 5th Street in Covington adds another dynamic with slower traffic trying to merge into high-speed traffic on the bridge. And the speed of tractor trailers coming down the cut in the hill creates another unsafe dynamic.”
Russo said that the only reason there aren’t more deaths on the bridge is because congestion often forces drivers to slow down when they get to the bridge itself. “The problems on the bridge are particularly troublesome for people outside the area,” Russo said. “And remember, most truck drivers driving tractor trailers on that bridge are not from this area — although some of them may be more familiar with the bridge’s problems than other drivers.”
Why is the Brent Spence Bridge so congested?
The Brent Spence Bridge is at the heart of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky community. But it is suffering the effects of old age. The arteries feeding into the heart of our community are becoming increasingly clogged year after year. Increased traffic — combined with the delays caused by accidents, congestion, and other events on the bridge — are creating blockages, bottlenecks, and even longer delays. In addition to the adverse effects of the bridge on our regional economy and the safety of our citizens and visitors, these delays are having a significant impact upon the vitality (growth and progress) and quality of life in our region.
Consider the following facts from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), the U.S. Census, and the U.S. Department of Transportation:
- The bridge was designed for an average flow of 80,000 vehicles per day.
- Estimates predict more than 200,000 vehicles per day will be crossing the bridge in the near future.
- Approximately 60% of the 2.1 million people in this region live within five miles of I-75.
- Approximately 75% of the 1 million jobs in this region are within five miles of I-75.
- The population of our area is expected to grow about 10 percent from 2.1 million people in 2010 to 2.3 million by 2030.
- One third of the entire population of the United States lives within 275 miles of the I-75 corridor.
- Interstate truck traffic alone is projected to grow by 10 percent by 2030.
- OKI conservatively estimates that 79,000 commuters cross the river every day to get to or from work in Hamilton, Clermont, Warren, Butler, Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.
What will increased congestion mean to our communities and for people living and working in our region?
To put some measurement on this problem, OKI created this video using traffic modeling analysis to show the gridlock that will occur in our region in the future without a new bridge. This model shows the heart of our region becoming increasingly clogged in the future.
Specifically, this video shows:
- The travel time from Eastgate or Florence to downtown at the morning rush hour is now about 35 minutes. Without a new bridge, that time will grow by 65 minutes.
- A trip from Kings Island to the Central Business District or vice versa now takes about 37 minutes. Without a new bridge, that travel time will grow to 100 minutes.
- Our international airport is another critical transportation lifeline for our region to the rest of the world. It currently takes about 30 minutes to drive from the airport to the Cincinnati Business District (CBD). Without a new bridge, that travel time will grow to 1 hour and 43 minutes in the coming decades.
We only need to look at other areas of the country with similar issues to understand what this means for us.
Here are some of the problems we can expect to occur without a new bridge:
- Rush-hour drives extending to hours in the work day.
- Employers scrambling to accommodate thousands of employees dealing with unpredictable commutes.
- Businesses losing millions of dollars each year because of increased fuel and labor costs caused by congestion, which, of course, is usually passed on to the consumer.
- Traffic backed up during rush hour creating gridlock in communities many miles from the bridge on both sides of the river.
- People choosing not to cross the river for jobs, schools, and entertainment because they cannot get to work on time; get their kids to daycare, school, sports, and extracurricular activities on time; or to restaurants, theaters, and other entertainment venues in a timely fashion.
- Small businesses relying on customers from both sides of the river will lose significant revenue.
The resulting gridlock predicted for the Brent Spence Bridge will have a huge impact on growth and progress in our region, causing lost income, wasted fuel, reduced employment, and inefficiencies in delivering goods and services to consumers, including vital products such as food, healthcare, and fuel. This growing congestion will adversely affect the quality of life for all of our region’s citizens on a daily basis.
Maintaining the national honors that Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have received
Consider the following honors earned by our region for innovation, vitality, growth, quality of life, attractiveness to businesses, nightlife, architecture, fine arts, food and attitude. Traffic congestion and travel delays will diminish these strengths and will negatively impact our region’s identity and stature in these and other areas:
- Cincinnati was listed by Partners for Livable Communities as one of 30 cities across the nation whose innovation has brought vitality and growth to the region, and improved quality of life. Cincinnati is the only Midwestern city and one of the nine large markets nationwide to be named to the list.
- Site Selection Magazine ranked Cincinnati among the top 10 metro areas for new and expanding businesses for eight consecutive years.
- Cincinnati also earned marks from Expansion Magazine, which ranked it among the hottest 50 cities according to site-location consultants.
- Forbes Magazine placed our region in its line-up of the Best Cities for Singles 2006. Out of the 40 largest continental U.S. metropolitan centers, Cincinnati ranked No. 1 for its nightlife based on the number of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs per capita in the region.
- Ted Lee, a journalist with Travel + Leisure magazine, featured Cincinnati’s modern approach to architecture, food, and attitude. Our attractions, hotels, and restaurants were showcased as highlights in the area.
- Oprah Magazine has called attention to Cincinnati’s urban renewal efforts, citing such attractions as the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the Cincinnati Opera, the Cesar Pelli-designed Aronoff Center for the Arts, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Learn more at Build our New Bridge Now