City: Enforce 2013 ban on hazardous materials on Brent Spence Bridge

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The fiery wreck that damaged the Brent Spence Bridge should remind people of the dangers of hazardous materials on the bridge, Covington officials say. (Photo from Kentucky Transportation Cabinet)

Nov. 11 fiery crash, shutdown are ‘wakeup call’

COVINGTON, Ky. – City of Covington officials want a 2013 regulation that bans hazardous materials on the Brent Spence Bridge to be better publicized and enforced, saying a fiery crash that shut down the bridge on Nov. 11 should be a “wake-up call.”
The ban, approved by both federal and state highway officials, appears to be neither widely known nor routinely followed. Recent news of its existence came as a surprise to public safety and local government officials, and existing highway signs even appear to be contradict it.
That needs to change, says the Covington Board of Commissioners, which passed a resolution Tuesday night calling for better signage, the redirecting of trucks carrying hazardous materials, and enforcement of the ban.
The crash “established beyond a reasonable doubt the risk associated with hazardous materials on the Brent Spence Bridge,” and each day the ban isn’t enforced “creates a heightened risk” to both Covington residents and the flow of commerce, according the resolution, which can be read HERE.
The crash involved two tractor-trailers, one of which was carrying potassium hydroxide, a caustic chemical commonly known as lye. The crash created an almost instantaneous fireball that – fed by diesel fuel and intensified by the lye – raged for hours, severely damaging both the pavement on the double-decker bridge and the girders on the upper deck.
An emergency and comprehensive around-the-clock repair of the bridge is scheduled to be finished Dec. 23.
While state officials say the amount of the chemical carried by the truck wasn’t big enough to trigger the ban, City officials say they’re more focused on preventing future catastrophes.
“It could have been a whole lot worse,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “We were very lucky, so the question becomes, very simply, why take the risk?”
Meyer said he has had multiple conversations with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Sec. Jim Gray and that Covington’s request would “fall on receptive ears.”
The bridge carries both Interstates 75 and 71 across the Ohio River between Covington and Cincinnati, with the joint interstate splitting at the north end of the bridge.
The ban came in the form of companion regulations that were put in place by both the state Cabinet (KYTC) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and made effective July 15, 2013. One regulation designated Interstate 71/75 north of Interstate 275 in Kentucky as a “restricted hazardous material” route. The other regulation diverted northbound trucks onto I-275 eastbound so as to avoid the bridge and the Lytle Tunnel in Cincinnati.
An existing sign in Kentucky tells truckers carrying hazardous materials to avoid I-71, which runs through the Lytle Tunnel. Another sign directs hazmat carriers to use I-75, in apparent violation of the ban.
The shutdown of the bridge has created severe gridlock in Covington as interstate drivers, including tractor trailers, heading north into Ohio have sought to avoid the circuitous I-275 detour by using Covington streets that are designated as state highways, including Main Street through the business district of MainStrasse Village.
“It has been just an extraordinarily disruptive and difficult circumstance for the people and businesses of our community,” the Mayor said.
At the same time, he praised KYTC for its singular focus on getting the bridge reopened and the speed of the repairs, “a speed that quite honestly I’ve never seen before.”
Texas Turnaround
During his lengthy remarks at the Tuesday meeting, Meyer also called on state officials to move expeditiously to find the money and implement what’s called “the Texas Turnaround,” a plan to reconfigure the Fourth Street on-ramp.
The plan was pushed by Covington officials two years ago and has since been approved by federal highway officials, Meyer said.
Engineers and traffic experts say the plan would greatly reduce the weaving of traffic on the Brent Spence and the resulting “turbulence” on the bridge and its approaches, thus reducing the number of accidents.
About the Brent Spence
The bridge is a critical part of the nation’s interstate highway system, carrying an estimated 160,000 to 180,000 vehicles a day and an estimated 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic produce a year.
But it’s been deemed “functionally obsolete” because it was never designed to carry that much traffic and because its “shoulders” – aka emergency breakdown lanes – were removed years ago to add lanes.
Calls to add capacity by rebuilding the bridge and/or adding a companion bridge have been stalled by lack of funding.
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