6 Fun Facts About the Brent Spence Bridge

August 14, 2018

Brent Spence Bridge

Photo: Antony-22

According to one of our most popular shirts, it’s been ruining your day since 1963. It’s the Brent Spence Bridge and it’s one of the most traversed bridges in America, a fact commuters in Cincinnati can attest to. 

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It wasn’t supposed to exist
When plans for the Interstate Highway System were first being rolled out in the Tristate in the 1950s, I-75/I-71 was going to go across the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. This plan was soon modified to include a separate bridge.

It was almost a tunnel
Long before the Federal Highway Act of 1956, Cincinnati anticipated the importance of expressways in the area’s future. Three distinct routes through Cincinnati were recognized as key parts of what was then called the National Interregional Highway System. One consideration in planning the area’s expressway system was the Ohio River. An early idea called for a 4-lane tunnel under the river, but this idea didn’t make it to the city’s 1948 Master Plan.

It was almost named the John F. Kennedy Bridge
Brent Spence was a congressman from Newport. At the time of the bridge’s construction, he was the longest-serving congressman in the history of the commonwealth. Then-Governor Bert T. Combs wanted the I-75/I-71 bridge to be named for Spence. Flattered, Spence resisted and suggested the bridge be named for President Kennedy who had just been killed. In fact, the assassination of the president delayed the dedication of the bridge in November of 1963.

Combs, however, insisted that the bridge be named for Brent Spence. Combs would later be honored with the Combs-Hehl bridge which brings I-275 over the Ohio River at Coney Island. Hehl, by the way, was Lambert Hehl, a former Campbell County judge.

It’s way over capacity
Not the most surprising revelation, especially if you have driven on the bridge, well, almost anytime. Originally designed to carry 80,000 vehicles a day, it now handles 140,000. Bridge designers back in the ‘50s either thought the bridge would one day be replaced, or perhaps that future vehicle traffic would be offset by the use of all those jetpacks we were promised.

Most of the bridge is under the jurisdiction of Kentucky
The Ohio River, oddly, lies mostly in Kentucky by an act of Congress issued in 1792. That’s the same year Kentucky became a state. Ohio wouldn’t be a state until 1803. For years Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, have tried to gain more control over the river, but Kentucky remains in charge. As such, the Brent Spence Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River, is under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

That view
For all its faults, the Brent Spence Bridge does provide one unique feature. It’s approach from Kentucky arguably provides one of the best skyline views of any city in America, perhaps the world. It is rivaled only by Pittsburgh and the view of that city’s downtown as drivers emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel on I-376.

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