How our local bridges earned their names

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With Cincinnati just across the river, many Northern Kentuckians traverse one of the bridges that span the divide each day for work.

In Campbell County, 37% of workers cross state lines for work. That number is 27% in Kenton and 18% in Boone, according to the Northern Kentucky Atlas.

Even those without jobs across the river travel back and forth to restaurants, bars and shops to visit friends and family and even to watch sports and place bets.

Needless to say, the bridges that cross the divide into Cincinnati get a lot of traffic. 

For those from the Greater Cincinnati area, you know the names of each of the bridges by heart. Sometimes maybe not by the official name, but a name nonetheless.

This made us wonder: Where do their names come from? 

Brent Spence Bridge 

Working left to right as we look into Ohio, let’s start with the Brent Spence Bridge. The Brent Spence, often shortened to BSB, is a very popular item of discussion on both sides of the river, and has been for decades.

It has gained national recognition in the past few years after it closed in 2020 for about six weeks when a truck carrying chemicals was involved in a wreck with another semi-trailer, causing a fire in the middle of the bridge.

President Joe Biden even stopped by earlier this year to tout the $1.6 billion in federal funding being promised to create an entirely new companion bridge, which will carry much of the traffic that the 60-year-old bridge currently carries. 

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Originally opened in November of 1963, the double-decker structure carries travelers on Interstate 71/75 from Covington into downtown Cincinnati and vice versa. The bridge gets its namesake from Kentucky’s longest-serving congressman, Brent Spence.

Spence was a native of Newport who was both an attorney and banker. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, the Democratic congressman was in office from 1931 to 1963. 

Clay Wade Bailey Bridge

Right next to the Brent Spence sits the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, which carries U.S. Routes 42 and 127 over the Ohio River. This small bridge mainly carries local traffic, avoiding much of the craziness on the Brent Spence. 

Built in 1974 for $13.5 million, the bridge gets its moniker from a Kentucky Post reporter. Clay Wade Bailey spent much of his 46-year reporting career as a Frankfort correspondent. 

Roebling Bridge 

This historic bridge has spanned the great Ohio River for over 150 years, bringing car and pedestrian traffic from Covington into Cincinnati and back. 

It was the longest bridge in the world when it was built in 1867 at 1,075 feet. Its shocking blue color and tall spires make it a truly iconic landmark. 

The bridge was named after the civil engineer who designed it, John Roebling, who went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge. 

According to the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee, a group focused on preserving the bridge, when it was built, the Roebling was considered an “engineering marvel” that used state-of-the-art engineering techniques, including its double cables that were “spun” and imported from England.

Taylor–Southgate Bridge

Moving across the Licking River into Campbell County, we’ve got the Taylor–Southgate Bridge, which crosses from Newport into downtown Cincinnati. 

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The construction of this structure was a bit complicated, with it originally being proposed for Covington in the mid-1980s. Issues between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the City of Cincinnati stopped the progress until 1991. Funding problems came into play which slowed things even further, but it was eventually built in 1995.

The name combines two prominent Newport families, the Taylors and the Southgates. 

James Taylor Jr. was a wealthy banker and slave owner who came to Newport in the 1700s from his father’s plantation with three enslaved men who worked to develop the land that is now Newport. 

Appointed the Commonwealth Attorney for Campbell County in 1798, Richard Southgate moved the Newport from Virginia in 1795; he became a state representative in 1803 and was a Kentucky Senator from 1817-1821. 

Purple People Bridge 

Formerly the Newport & Cincinnati Bridge, the Purple People Bridge was originally a railroad bridge built in 1872. It was the first railroad bridge to span the Ohio River. 

The historic structure has changed names several times. In 1904 its moniker was changed to the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad Bridge. Soon after, part of the bridge was paved for cars, and in 1987, it was closed to railroad traffic. 

In 2001 it became a pedestrian-only bridge, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002 the Kentucky Legislature agreed to spend $4 million on restoration. At the time, the CSX Railroad and the state owned the bridge. The state donated its portion to Southbank Partners and CSX Railroad donated theirs to the City of Newport. 

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Newport and Southbank Partners created the nonprofit corporation The Purple People Bridge Company, which maintains the bridge to this day. 

The organization chose the purple color after they showed computer-generated images of the bridge in various colors to focus groups. They said that green and purple were the top choices, and after some thought they ended up going with purple. 

Daniel Carter Beard Bridge

The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge carries eight lanes of Interstate 471 traffic from Newport into Cincinnati. 

Built in 1976, the official name comes from one of the Boy Scouts of America founders, Daniel Carter Beard. Beard was a Cincinnati-born author, illustrator and youth leader who originally founded the Sons of Daniel Boone, which eventually merged with the Boy Scouts of America.

Much to the chagrin of the boy scouts, the structure is often colloquially referred to as the “Big Mac” bridge. This nickname comes from its double yellow arch structure resembling the McDonald’s “golden arches” logo.

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