Contributed photo

The Brent Spence Bridge connects northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A busy bridge between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati will remain closed for several days to allow engineers to assess damage caused by a crash and fire early Wednesday morning.

The Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-71 and I-75 traffic across the Ohio River, was closed after two semi- tractor trailer rigs crashed around 2:45 a.m.  The impact caused one of the trucks, which was carrying the chemical Potassium Hydroxide, to burst into flames.  The fire burned for two hours before being brought under control, according to Gov. Andy Beshear.

“The fire has caused visible damage to the bridge and its concrete decking,” Beshear said during a virtual press conference.  “Both northbound and southbound lanes have been closed, to allow clean-up efforts, and for engineers to inspect the bridge.”

Bridge inspectors are on-site, he said, “But due to the extremely high temperatures of the structure, they have not begun the inspection, and we will not ask them to do so, until it is safe.  The extent of damage will have to be determined by those inspectors, and it is premature to speculate on the impact the fire has had to the bridge.”

“The bridge, at best, will be closed several days, but we ought to be prepared for more disruption, potentially significantly more disruption, than that.”

He said they are working with their counterparts in the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and will speak with US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, sometime on Wednesday.

When asked what the possible amount of federal help would be made available, Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said he has spoken to Todd Inman, chief of staff to Secretary Chao. 

“He offered full support to be able to turn quickly,” Gray said.  “It would require an emergency declaration from Gov. Beshear, but in previous examples of occurrences like this, as much as millions of dollars have been turned over within 24 hours.  That’s not to say it’s going to happen exactly that way here, but you can count on it that we are examining every option to get the resources, the manpower, the equipment that’s required, and also the financial resources to help us.”

“This is a very important bridge, not just for the region, but for the nation,” Beshear said. “And we are fully committed to getting it back into service.  But the safety of the public, and our and Ohio’s employees, are absolutely critical. In the next, we hope, hours, maybe a little longer, we’re going to need your patience.  That patience is necessary to make sure we don’t send anybody on that bridge to do the inspection or to clean up the debris, until we know they’re going to be OK.”

No injuries were reported to the truck drivers.

Traffic is being detoured onto I-275 and I-471 while the bridge is closed.

Potassium hydroxide, commonly known as lye or caustic potash, is used in various chemical, industrial and manufacturing applications, according to the National Institutes of Health.  It is corrosive to metals.

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