Designs for Brent Spence Bridge replacement narrowed to three

The Brent Spence Bridge project has been a lingering issue regionally for the past several years. The recent elevation of the $2-3 billion project by President Obama now places the replacement and rehabilitation of the 48-year-old Ohio River span on the national radar.

While all of the political debate and media coverage has been ongoing, so has development of final design options for new bridge to be built immediately west of the current Brent Spence Bridge. The six design options presented in February 2010 have now been narrowed to three finalists.

The first option (video) is a contemporary arch design similar to the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge (Big Mac Bridge) to the east. The design is favored by many for its classic look, and the opportunity it presents to create a balanced bookend to the cluster of bridges spanning the Ohio River through the region’s urban core.

Option 1 as seen from the west [LEFT], option 2 as seen from the top deck looking north [MIDDLE], and option 3 as seen from above [RIGHT].

Option two (video) is a standard cable stayed design that includes two prominent towers. The design would be similar to other bridges throughout the United States, and others planned along the Ohio River.

The third option (video) is the boldest, and most expensive, of the three alternatives. The cable stayed bridge would include just one tower structure reaching hundreds of feet into the sky and rivaling some of the city’s tallest office towers for prowess amongst Cincinnati’s famous skyline.

Complete funding and a function funding structure have yet to be identified for the Brent Spence Bridge project. Meanwhile, the designs developed by Parsons Brinkerhoff and Rosales + Partners continue to move forward. What is your preference of the three finalists?

  • Schmiez

    Any chance they looked into combining the Bailey bridge into the Spence Bridge?

    The 1st and 3rd option appear to have traffic on two levels.

    And you could build it out of ivory and unicorn tears, but as long as the Bailey Bridge is next door, its going to take away from the appeal.

  • Aaron Watkins

    Why can’t Cincy get something cool and interesting like this, being built in Louisville? I mean, I’m almost always for development in Cincinnati, and I often save my opinion of the designs of certain developments, simply because I’m just glad to see a parking lot filled. But honestly, it often feels like a waste of money to build such bland structures. I mean, in 25 years, are we going to feel any need to preserve buildings such as those recently built at the corner of Ohio and McMillan? Buildings constructed with design driven by cost, not by a desire to improve our visual landscape? Does no one care about the beauty of the world we create, or should we just put our heads down and walk to the jobs that we should be thankful just for having?

  • Won’t it be cheaper to say that the Big Mac bridge is vital to transportation? The only reason BSB is important is because someone said it was, then we can use that money to cover 71 through downtown.

  • Now maybe I’m just confused, but it seems that 2 of those options are a split lane highway, yet the videos show a double decker again. Are we getting away from the double decker? or did the videos just need something? And i really hope thats the case. I hate driving under the dam thing.

  • J

    They all have traffic on both levels, with a split between both decks, resulting in four separate “roads.”

    To me #3 is the clear favorite. Cincinnati needs to make a statement when visitors first see it, and #3 is by far the most interesting.

    I don’t buy the “balanced bookend” argument for #1. The Big Mac bridge has had its emergency lanes removed and is also functionally obsolete. Therefore, after the Brent Spence it will also be up for replacement. When that happens your “balanced bookends” are probably gone. Plus #1 is an old and tired design that doesn’t speak of the age it was built in. #3 comes the closest, #2 is boring like #1. I expect #3 to be eliminated just because it costs more.

  • Jord

    Go big or go home. #3 is the obvious choice. It’s a rare opportunity to add another major landmark to the city’s repertoire, so we might as well make it unique and interesting!

  • Aaron Watkins

    I third #3. This is at least “different”. And I would argue that it has a more modern appeal, being simpler. I also enjoy that the cable stays are equally spaced along the two supporting towers forming, clean parallel lines. It is simple designs like these that can really become unique with interesting lighting or material. Think something similar to the St. Louis arch. It would be a far cry from that, in both scale and beauty. But there is simplicity in its form, much like option 3.

    @ Schwartz.
    I see the validity of your point, and I too want to see I-71 covered, but the fact of the matter is that the highway on the KY side of BSB is different from I-471. I don’t think simply diverting traffic would be the answer. Also, that would take a lot of money, and that would be on top of all of the money that has already gone into the project. But hopefully there will be enough money to cover FWW before I’m 80.

  • Mark

    Does everyone notice in the video for the prior article it is mentioned several times that the bridge is “functional obsolete”, but not structurally derelict? I attempted to debate this point with a few folks just a couple months ago and everyone insisted that the bridge is dangerous when in fact it is just over-utilized. Why is the thought of alternative measures for reducing traffic flow immediately dismissed? How many commuters pass through this bridge every day that could easily carpool, use alternative routes, and for a small portion use alternative means of transit? Have any feasibility studies been performed to determine how much traffic is commuters, and furthermore how greatly that number could be reduced through alternative measures? I just hate to see our country shell out such a large sum of money to meet demands a crumbling unimodal infrastructure.

  • How about these guys?
    They worked on the Maysville bridge so they know about the killer catfish & all.
    Is a plexiglass topped tunnel completely out of the question?

  • “J” is correct, all three bridge designs have two decks and split traffic on both levels.

    With that said, I agree with many others in saying that Option 3 is my favorite as well. If one of the goals is to truly make a statement with this bridge, then that is the best option to accomplish that. It would be a large tower, and the bridge design itself would be unique nationally.

  • Emily Schneider

    I like design #2 the best. It looks more balanced than the last.
    #3 is too bold and odd-looking for my taste.

  • Chas

    Is there no way that traffic going TOWARDS Cincinnati could be on the top level? Sort of a missed opportunity to extend that cut in the hill experience.

  • @Chas: There will be traffic going in both directions, on both deck levels. So there will be traffic heading towards Cincinnati on the top level.

  • Ryan L

    I agree with the general consensus on this blog that option #3 is the boldest, most unique option. Also, I wish that all of the traffic on the top part of the bridge was going into Cincinnati and the bottom deck would go into Kentucky. Let’s be honest, when you enter Pittsburgh from the tunnel, the view is amazing! If we could replicate that with the cut in the hill to Cincinnati, it would be great! Now imagine the bridge into Pittsburgh if it went on the bottom deck… It’s unfortunate that they are separating the two interstates on the bridge because it means 50% of the traffic is going to see the bottom of a bridge instead of the beautiful skyline.

  • J

    Here’s a more detailed look at the designs:×17%20Low%20Res.pdf

    My understanding for why there’s two decks, and each deck is split into two roadways is simple. The top deck is the north/south I-71 bypass, and bottom deck is the north/south I-75 bypass. The current Brent Spence bridge will serve as a “local” bridge connecting exits to NKY and downtown Cincinnati.

  • I think the clear consensus is that #3 is the most iconic and thus the best for the image of the city. #1 is just an outdated repeat, and #2 looks like every other bridge design.

    @Mark: I more/less agree. Have you read Jake’s post (linked in the article) on the politics of the bridge?

    The issue, of course, is that you’re going to have a hard time convincing people we don’t need this bridge when so many are in support of replacing it. Hopefully we can get the carpool programs, bicycle paths, and rail infrastructure too, but given the local mindset I think the only reason this bridge would get scrapped is the money.

    That said: maybe it’s time people start pointing out that there HAS been NO evidence that it’s structurally insufficient, and the money could more easily be used elsewhere? I’ve had no problems crossing the BSB, and would personally rather not see my own tax money go to a new bridge just because it’s larger and more iconic.

    @J: Any idea WHY they’ve decided to split I-71 and I-75 at the bridge? That makes no sense whatsoever if they’re combined before and after the bridge. It would avoid so many “which route do I take?” issues if I-71/75 stayed combined, with north on top and south on the bottom.

  • I forgot one point.

    Did it really take 18 months + to narrow from 6 designs to 3?

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Zachary, we’re going to do a follow-up next week about that exact point — about how they keep insinuating that there is a serious structural problem when none has been documented, and that the existing bridge will in fact remain in use for another 30-40 years.

  • Jake, I’m glad to hear there’s going to be another story!

    I still think the only thing that kills it is money. The infrastructure bank idea (as part of the jobs bill, or separate) is unlikely to pass Congress, and unless federal funds can be identified the project can’t happen.

  • Option #4

    @Jake: You consider yourself a transportation expert, right? Has anyone ever considered corporate sponsorship to offset the cost of this project? Perhaps you should reach out to a company such as Pfizer and see if they’d be interested in a partnership to develop a fourth option, a double-decker boner bridge. Now some might want to call it the Big Blue Bridge but if you can make this happen, I don’t see why it couldn’t be called the Mecklenboner.

    As long as I didn’t have a sudden loss of vision or hearing, I might use it.

  • Mark

    Yea Jake it’s good to hear you’re trying to raise awareness. I find it baffling that there is such a sudden surge in support for this bridge with absolutely no discussion of alternatives. I think it really has to do with an overall ignorance. It has been stated that the bridge is dangerous because the shoulders were removed years ago and that it is structurally obsolete because it does not have enough lanes to support the amount of traffic flow, and now all the sudden people are supporting its replacement under the premonition that the bridge is going to collapse otherwise. Obviously I don’t want to ever see something like what happened in Minnesota occur again, but that doesn’t mean we need to shell out several billion dollars to replace every bridge in the country that is over ten years old. I would just like to see more evidence that a bridge is really necessary.

    On the BSB project website I read over some of the analysis and continually would see the “No Build Alternative”, which the team described as an alternative that provides to traffic relief, no connection improvements, etc. It states that standard safety and maintenance improvements would occur. Wouldn’t carpool incentives decrease traffic congestion? The use of HOV/Express lanes could provide an increase in ride sharing and a decrease in traffic. What about a rail circulator between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati? This could also decrease traffic. The use of the two together could become a great alternative. None of these options appear to be included in the analysis being performed in regards to the project, and this short sighted analysis could cost tax payers money and could cost the city of Cincinnati even more through additional lost opportunities to move towards a more progressive, eco-friendly, and desirable community.

  • Btw: Has anyone proven that the BSB is a traffic bottleneck? If the bridge is NOT a bottleneck, then increasing capacity there will do nothing to relieve traffic. It just means it will be backed up somewhere else.

  • J

    @Zach: I-75 and I-71 combine on the Kentucky side only. On the Ohio side I-75 is on the west side of downtown, while I-71 splits off to Ft. Washington Way, the Lytle tunnel, and over on the east side of downtown.

    I don’t really get the Brent Spence replacement conspiracy theories. It’s a dangerous bridge because if your car breaks down on it you’re likely to be struck. I’ve crossed it many times and people like to haul ass over that bridge for some reason. And yes, various people have been killed on it because of a lack of emergency lanes. Look up the stats, they’re there. Here’s one to get you started. It took 5 seconds to google.

  • @J: Good point on the split. I don’t know what the heck I was thinking. I still don’t see the point of splitting them before the bridge, though. Unless, as I said, it helps resolve some sort of bottleneck.

    And the BSB was built with shoulders. No reason they couldn’t be put back in…

  • J

    The basic problem with the current bridge is that you have people trying to go to I-75, I-71, merge from 5th street in Covington, and exit downtown all within a very short area. It’s very hectic and confusing if you’re not a local. The new bridge will basically contain express lanes for I-75 and I-71.

    So say you’re in Kentucky approaching Ohio, if you want to stay on I-75 you will take the I-75 Express lanes on the new bridge (lower deck). When you reach Ohio you won’t have any chance to exit downtown or merge onto I-71. Same basic scenario if you get in the I-71 Express lane; once you’re on the bridge you have no other options but to get on Fort Washington Way. If you want to go downtown you’ll get on the current Brent Spence bridge, which will eventually terminate downtown–hence the “local” designation.

    You could certainly put the shoulders back on, but you’ll have two (three at most) lanes of cars that are all trying to do all the things I already mentioned. I’m no expert on highway laws, but my understanding is that once you remove the emergency lanes from the bridge it’s automatically designed “functionally obsolete.” That’s different from “structurally deficient,” which means the bridge is in danger of collapsing. The Brent Spence is in no danger of falling down any time soon, hence why it’s not actually being replaced. It’s actually a misnomer to say Brent Spence Replacement, it’s more of a roadway augmentation.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Here are some definitions:

    Functionally Obsolete
    A functionally obsolete bridge is one that was built to standards that are not used today. These bridges are not automatically rated as structurally deficient, nor are they inherently unsafe. Functionally obsolete bridges are those that do not have adequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve current traffic demand, or those that may be occasionally flooded.
    A functionally obsolete bridge is similar to an older house. A house built in 1950 might be perfectly acceptable to live in, but it does not meet all of today’s building codes. Yet, when it comes time to consider upgrading that house or making improvements, the owner must look at ways to bring the structure up to current standards.

    Structurally Deficient and Sufficiency Rating
    A bridge sufficiency rating includes a multitude of factors: inspection results of the structural condition of the bridge, traffic volumes, number of lanes, road widths, clearances, and importance for national security and public use, to name just a few.

    The sufficiency rating is calculated per a formula defined in Federal Highway Administration’s Recording and Coding Guide for the Structure Inventory and Appraisal of the Nation’s Bridges. This rating is indicative of a bridge’s sufficiency to remain in service. The formula places 55 percent value on the structural condition of the bridge, 30 percent on its serviceability and obsolescence, and 15 percent on its essentiality to public use.

    The point calculation is based on a 0-100 scale and it compares the existing bridge to a new bridge designed to current engineering standards.

    The bridge’s sufficiency rating provides an overall measure of the bridge’s condition and is used to determine eligibility for federal funds. Bridges are considered structurally deficient if significant load carrying elements are found to be in poor condition due to deterioration or the adequacy of the waterway opening provided by the bridge is determined to be extremely insufficient to point of causing intolerable traffic interruptions.

    Every bridge constructed goes through a natural deterioration or aging process, although each bridge is unique in the way it ages.

    The fact that a bridge is classified under the federal definition as “structurally deficient” does not imply that it is unsafe. A structurally deficient bridge, when left open to traffic, typically requires significant maintenance and repair to remain in service and eventual rehabilitation or replacement to address deficiencies. To remain in service, structurally deficient bridges are often posted with weight limits to restrict the gross weight of vehicles using the bridges to less than the maximum weight typically allowed by statute.

    To be eligible for federal aid the following is necessary (a local match is required):
    Replacement: bridge must have a sufficiency rating of less than 50 and be either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient.
    Repair: bridge must have a sufficiency rating of less than 80 and the jurisdiction is prevented from using any additional federal aid for 10 years.

  • Schmiez

    Are we only focusing on the bridge?

    They pseudo-repaved half of downtown this past 4 weeks. While not pristine, the roads were far from bad. And im not sure what is accomplished by what they are doing right now.

    Race between 6th and 7th has been dug up, paved, dug up in various spots, patched, spot dug- patched with giant metal plates, patched with blacktop, and now pseudo-paved all in the last 2.5 years.

  • Nathan Strieter

    Lets not get all wrapped up here on the obsolete v functionally obsolete… Jake- you say that neither functionally obsolete or structurally deficient mean a bridge is unsafe, but if you have been on the BSB you know it is not safe.

    **Local or not most people do not know how to go across the bridge and frequently travel far below the average speed while changing lanes in order to figure it out.
    I do not believe that the size of structure planned for the span is necessary, but I would say that the bridge does not perform its purpose well.

    (on a side note the thing that seems to slow traffic down the most- aside from the above- is the sun glare which occurs during 7 months of the year while heading up the cut in the hill and effect everyone– KDOT should look into some sort of solar panel covering or shading structure and travel in nky the bridge etc would be eased some)

  • Nathan Strieter

    Oh yeah- my vote is #3