Purple People Bridge Needs Fresh Coat of Paint


The Newport Southbank Bridge Company recently announced that it hopes to repaint the Purple People Bridge, which connects Cincinnati and Kentucky, for its 150th anniversary and restore its iconic purple color.

The 2,670-foot pedestrian bridge is reportedly the longest connector of its kind in the country that links two states. On average, over 800,000 people cross the bridge each year.

Bridge Background

Originally named the Newport Cincinnati Bridge, the Newport Southbank Bridge opened in 1872. It was the first railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and was originally owned by the Little Miami Railroad.

The bridge’s piers were widened and the trusses were replaced in 1897, with a 20-foot-wide horse and cart path added along with two streetcar tracks. The original truss spans were also replaced by the Pennsylvania Pratt trusses, which can still be seen today.

In 1904, the bridge was renamed the L&N Railroad Bridge, and shortly after was improved and repaved to accommodate automobiles. In the 1940s, the center streetcar track became a pedestrian walkway as streetcar service over the bridge ended.

Rail traffic closed in 1987, and the bridge was then again renamed to the CSX Bridge after the railroad and bridge were acquired by CSX. However, after removing the tracks and dismantling the rail approach viaducts, CSX stopped painting the railroad half of the bridge.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which had reportedly acquired the automobile portion of the bridge, continued to paint its side of the bridge blue. This resulted in a blue and rust covered bridge in the early 1990s, with expensive lead removal preventing easy or inexpensive repainting of the trusses.

The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2001. At the time, it was also permanently closed to automobiles.

Later that same year, the City of Newport and Southbank partners reportedly received $4 million in state funds to paint and restore the bridge. Ownership was also transferred to the nonprofit Newport Southbank Bridge Company, which currently owns and operates the bridge and oversees its maintenance.

As for the color choice for the restoration, more than a dozen groups were reportedly shown computer-generated images of how the bridge would look painted a variety of colors, including dark purple, green, rust, orange and white. According to the bridge’s website, in every group, purple and green were the top choices.

A Southbank volunteer and director of communications at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Ted Bushelman, had studied how people relate to colors at Xavier University, including writing his master’s thesis on “The Psychology of Color.”

“Seeing is as much in the brain as it is in the eye. I redid some of my research and gave the information to Southbank,” Bushelman said. “Purple is a good color for public consumption. If you paint a room purple, it can drive you crazy. But it looks good on something like a bridge.”

Based on his input and the focus group’s preferences, Southbank President Wally Pagan said his group took that advice and came up with its own purple color. In 2006, the bridge became a pedestrian-only walkway.

Repainting Plans

The bridge was last painted 20 years ago, and as its 150th anniversary approaches, is in need of a repaint. The initial purple color has reportedly dulled to a gray.

“Not only to be a pedestrian and a people bridge,” said Newport Southbank Bridge Company President Will Weber, “But we need to put the purple back in purple people.”

Newport and Cincinnati mayors have said that it’s important to keep this bridge open, safe and functional for many years to come. Last year, the bridge was closed for six months after a stone fell from one of the piers, with costly repairs.

“I’m excited to partner with Mayor Guidugli to bring some more attention to this bridge,” said Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval. “And how critical it is not just for the people who are here right now but also for tourists and future residents.”

“When this bridge shut down, it was emotional,” noted Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli. “It was their safe tie to downtown Cincinnati.”

The estimated cost to repaint the bridge is $1.5 million. Because the company is nonprofit, several events will be planned throughout the year to celebrate the bridge’s anniversary and raise money to help cover these costs. Additionally, the bridge is open to renting for private events.

“There will be a lot of partnerships and collaboration on both sides of the river,” said Weber. “As you approach the bridge from both Cincinnati and Newport, we’re really going to take beautification and an overall strategy, so you can see what this bridge means to both sides of the river.”

“As we move into the next phase of trying to solidify this bridge and strengthen it for the future generations,” added Guidugli. “It’s going to require commitment from government, residents, everyone.”

“This bridge really is a personification of our commitment as a region to be pedestrian-friendly,” said Pureval. “Making sure that we grow our two communities but when we grow we make sure we’re thinking about our infrastructure. Not just for cars and buses but also for bikes and pedestrians.”

According to reports, the goal is to have the project completed by Labor Day 2023. The events on the bridge are expected to be posted online later this month.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Color; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; NA; North America; Paint; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Upcoming projects

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