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Advocates say there's still time to rethink Brent Spence Bridge corridor design

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Bridge Forward
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WVXU
A rendering of the proposed Bridge Forward Brent Spence Bridge corridor design.

A group called Bridge Forward has spent the past year talking to anyone who will listen about a plan they say would free up 30 acres of land Downtown for redevelopment as the Brent Spence Bridge corridor gets redone.

Now, with $1.6 billion in federal funding on the table, Director Brian Boland says their proposal deserves another look.

"If all we do is double the highway, the day the last construction truck leaves, there is no added benefit for anyone else," Boland says. "But with our plan, the day the last truck leaves is just the start of the economic return."

The Bridge Forward plan claims to free up space — about six city blocks worth — by lowering I-75 in a fashion similar to Fort Washington Way and building a street grid overtop, among other measures. Those design features would allow the city to reclaim land lost during the construction of I-75 during the 1960s, including the demolition of much of the predominantly Black West End at the time.

But in a response to the alternate design last year, the Ohio Department of Transportation called that element of Bridge Forward's proposal "impractical." State transportation officials say they've reworked their own plans to lessen the footprint of the coming infrastructure, shaving some 10 acres off the project.

That hasn't dissuaded Boland and others who champion the alternate plan. They say that now that federal funding is secured, it's time to get serious about looking at options that take up less valuable urban real estate.

"Why can't we talk about bridge design? It's time to get serious about that and get moving on that," he says. "We're hoping with the fear of losing funding off the table, we can start to get some political buy-in."

Boland says the group will be meeting with ODOT soon and continues to speak with local elected leaders, who have some say in the design of the corridor. Bridge Forward is also commissioning an economic impact study on their design.

Meanwhile, ODOT and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are working on their own design for the bridge — one they say should be shovel-ready by the end of the year.

Their plans have a secondary bridge carrying drivers on I-71 and I-75, while the current Brent Spence will carry local traffic. Before the bridge, that traffic will travel via what the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are calling a "collector-distributor" system from 12th Street in Covington to Ezzard Charles Drive in Cincinnati.

The companion bridge project is part of a larger revamp of the corridor passing through Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Ohio and Kentucky transportation officials envision reworking an eight-mile stretch of highway on both sides of the Ohio River from the Western Hills Viaduct to just south of Dixie Highway.

About $1.385 billion of the federal investment in the bridge project will come from the Biden administration's Large Bridge Grant Program. A separate federal Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant (MEGA) for complex and economically significant projects will provide another $250 million. The overall cost of the companion bridge and corridor revamp is expected to be as much as $3.6 billion.

Nick Swartsell is a general assignment reporter for WVXU. Before his current role, he worked on the station’s Cincinnati Edition program as assistant producer and was a journalist for outlets in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Texas prior to that. When he’s not reporting, he likes exploring places he probably shouldn’t on his bike, taking photos, and growing corn, tomatoes and peppers that are, in all honesty, much too hot for any practical use. He is from Hamilton. You can find him at @nswartsell on Twitter.