Is there a Safety Issue with the Current Brent Spence Bridge?

It has been reported by the Enquirer in numerous articles that the 49-year-old Brent Spence Bridge on Interstates 71/75 is “functionally obsolete” because of its narrow lanes, lack of emergency shoulders and limited visibility on the lower deck. The bridge carries double its intended traffic capacity, and transportation officials say congestion is only going to get worse (Brent Spence toll could be as low as $1, 2013). Fierce opposition from residents and politicians in Northern Kentucky over tolls has many searching for other options to finance the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement. But tolls are becoming more common around the country as alternative funding sources dwindle, national experts say. A raise in the federal gas tax and a change in how Kentucky allocates federal funds have come up as suggestions at recent public meetings in Northern Kentucky on ways to help pay for the new Interstate 71/75 bridge (If tolls aren’t the answer, what is?, 2013).

The governors of both Ohio and Kentucky have maintained the necessity for tolls in building a new Brent Spence Bridge despite the unpopularity of that option in Northern Kentucky (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013). Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the same governor that vowed to lure more Kentucky companies across the Ohio River, in a comment aimed at Northern Kentucky state lawmakers and community leaders who oppose his plan to fast-track construction of a new Brent Spence Bridge.

“There were some of them there that weren’t happy with me because they said we were stealing their jobs, which we’ll continue to do by the way,” Kasich told Enquirer editors and reporters in his Columbus office.

In 2011, Kasich aggressively and successfully lured two Covington-based corporate headquarters, Omnicare and Nielsen, to downtown Cincinnati (Kasich to Kentucky: Ohio to ‘continue’ to take your jobs, 2013). John Kasich is also aware that most of the commuters that cross the bridge are from Northern Kentucky and therefore would incur most of the cost in funding a new Brent Spence Bridge. It sounds like he not only wants to take our jobs but also make us pay for a bridge that will benefit the state of Ohio as well.

Saying tolls would place an unfair burden on Kenton County residents, the county’s fiscal court has joined a number of Northern Kentucky governments who’ve taken a stand against using tolls to help pay for the replacement of the aging Brent Spence Bridge.

Tuesday, Kenton Fiscal Court unanimously approved a resolution opposing the use of tolls to pay for the reconstruction or replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge and its approaches. The vote came after a 21/2-hour hearing (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013). In its resolution adopted Tuesday, Kenton Fiscal Court noted local traffic volume on the bridge consists of 65 percent Kentucky residents and just 35 percent Ohio residents.

County officials also say Kenton County residents and business owners “will be severely harmed by carrying the majority of any toll” because of that county’s proximity to the bridge. Kenton County’s 160,000 residents make up less than 8 percent of the total population within the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Council of Governments’ region, meaning Kenton County’s residents would pay “a significantly higher cost per capita than any other county (within the region),” Fiscal Court’s resolution says.

The resolution notes that Boone and Campbell counties have other interstate bridges connecting them to the I-75 corridor and could avoid paying tolls (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).

Some argue that if a commuter doesn’t want to pay the toll they could use the other bridges that connect Northern Kentucky to Ohio. In fact, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told the Enquirer that Northern Kentucky’s variety of bridges should make the prospect of tolls easier than in Louisville and other places that have fewer bridges,.

“Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati are in a much different situation than Louisville,” Beshear said. “You’ve got four other bridges that give you access between Northern Kentucky and Ohio. You’ve got the Clay Wade bridge; you’ve got the suspension bridge; you’ve got the Taylor Southgate Bridge and you’ve got the 471 bridge, and none of them are going to have tolls on them at any time.

“So people have got ways to get across and back, ways galore. They don’t have to use the Brent Spence Bridge. Down in Louisville, they only had one, and it’s way out of the way, the Sherman Minton Bridge (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013).”

The prospect of more traffic on the other four downtown bridges between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, however, has raised safety concerns among Northern Kentucky residents. All four bridges combined carry an average daily traffic load of 132,400 cars per day, less than the 154,000 cars per day carried by the Brent Spence Bridge, statistics from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet show in the table below (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013).

Average Volume of Traffic per Day by Bridge


Average Traffic Volume Per Day

Brent Spence Bridge


Daniel Carter Beard Bridge (Big Mac)


Clay Wade Bailey Bridge


Taylor-Southgate Bridge


Roebling Suspension Bridge


The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, also known as the Big Mac Bridge, in Newport has the second highest traffic volume behind the Brent Spence with 99,500 cars on average per day. That’s followed by the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge adjacent to the Brent Spence in Covington with 15,000 cars on average per day, then the Taylor-Southgate Bridge in Newport with 9,600 cars and then the Roebling Suspension Bridge with 8,300 cars.

Some officials in Newport and Covington say the bridges can’t handle increased traffic.

The intersection with Fourth and Main streets in Covington at the foot of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge would need expansion to accommodate the traffic increase, said Covington City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. He said comparisons to Louisville’s bridge project aren’t apt.

“The analogy to Louisville is not direct,” Eilerman said. “This bridge is a more important bridge project nationally. The president acknowledged the importance to upgrade infrastructure in his State of the Union. The president was here a couple years ago in front of the bridge. It should be near the top of the federal priority list (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013).”

Cars already back up on the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge trying to get into Newport on the Ky. 8 exit. Plans to widen that exit have gone slowly and will likely involve minor cosmetic changes rather than the major overhaul hoped for by some, said Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell. Further traffic on that bridge would cause gridlock, Fennell said.

“Ideally for the city, the state would have been able to improve the traffic flow with other modifications,” Fennell said. “Hopefully, traffic improvements will be completed prior to construction on the Brent Spence Bridge. It is an issue here in Newport, a safety issue (Governor: Other bridges should ease pain of tolls, 2013).”

One of the justifications for the push to build the bridge now is the issue of safety. Proponents of tolling state that a new bridge is needed to reduce crashes and fatalities, to ensure that goods and services are delivered in a timely manner to businesses in the region and to reduce gridlock (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013). Are crashes and fatalities a concern on the Brent Spence Bridge? According to Kevin Gordon of the Independent Business Association of Northern Kentucky said tolls are nothing more than taxes, and he called for a new study on funding options for a new bridge. He said other interstate bridges in the region don’t have the safety lanes that are being recommended for the Brent Spence Bridge, and he said most of the accidents don’t occur on the bridge itself, but rather at the northbound end of the bridge or on the congested Cut-in-the Hill in Covington (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).  A Crash Analysis by Roadway Segment conducted by the Federal Highway Administration between 2005-2007 confirms his assertions that the accidents occur leading up to the bridge, but not on the bridge itself. 

At least eight Northern Kentucky governments have previously adopted resolutions opposing tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge’s reconstruction or replacement, including seven Kenton County cities and the city of Union in Boone County. Boone County Republicans have presented a similar resolution to Boone Fiscal Court, but it has not been placed on the agenda yet (Kenton adds voice to opposing tolls, 2013).

What can you do? Your voice can make a difference today. Make a two minute call now to the Legislator Message Line at: 1-800-372-7181.

Northern Kentucky Representatives




Sen. John Schickel

Sen. Katie Stine

Sen. Damon Thayer

Rep. Sal Santoro

Rep Dennis Keene

Sen. Chris McDaniel

Rep. Addia Wuchner

Rep. Joe Fischer

Rep. Thomas Kerr


Rep. Thomas McKee


Rep. Arnold Simpson


Rep. Adam Koenig

Tell the operator in Frankfort to give your message to all elected officials. 

Kentucky Governor

Steve Beshear

(502) 564 2611

Please, you can make your point known in a 2 minute phone call.

Federal Elected Officials

US Senator Rand Paul

DC: (202)224-4343

N KY: (859) 426-0165

US Senator Mitch McConnell

DC: (202) 224-2541

N KY: (859) 578-0188

Congressman Thomas Massie

DC: (202) 225-3465

N KY: (859) 426-0080