Purple People Bridge Repainting Project Underway
After having faded to a dull gray color since its last paint job 20 years ago, the Purple People Bridge has begun a repainting project that will restore the structure to its namesake color.
The 2,670-foot pedestrian bridge is reportedly the longest connector of its kind in the country that links two states, Ohio and Kentucky. On average, over 800,000 people cross the bridge each year.
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.
The bridge won't fully be re-clad in its new purple tone right away, though. According to a press release from The Purple People Bridge Company, only the entryway arch on the Newport side of the bridge will get the fresh coat right away. https://t.co/3Ploakbpdx— WCPO 9 (@WCPO) August 25, 2022
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.
Back in April, the Newport Southbank Bridge Company recently announced that it hoped to repaint the Purple People Bridge for its 150th anniversary and restore its iconic purple color. The bridge was last painted 20 years ago, with the initial purple color reportedly dulling 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.
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.
Last week, crews began the first phase of the painting project, working on the entryway on the Newport, Kentucky, side of the bridge.
“We see exactly what this bridge was in 2003 when it was first opened as the Purple People Bridge,” Weber said. “How many people that brought together to really see a bold and beautiful bridge like this in our community.”
Baynum Painting of Newport was contracted for the project. The company has completed projects internationally and has completed work for amusement park rides, water parks and other construction/new build projects.
“This is 10 blocks from our office. It means a lot to us,” said Baynum Painting President and Owner Chris Baynum.
In 2016, Baynum had provided various paint swatches on the entry to test the shades of purple over time, alongside the type of paint products. The shade of purple that will be used for the repainting will reportedly be unveiled as part of the project promotion, with a special name.
“If you’re going to call the bridge the Purple People Bridge then you need to have your own shade and color of purple,” explained Weber. “So, we wanted something bold, something iconic so that when you recognize it, or you want to go to the store and paint your house purple then you can purchase the Purple People Bridge purple.”
“We feel confident that when we’re finished with this that the color and gloss retention of this paint is going to leave us with a bright purple color for years to come,” said Baynum.
According to reports, it will take about three months to paint the bridge once all of the funding is secure. Weber wants to secure funding early next year and complete the paint job by Labor Day 2023.
The current phase of painting is expected to be completed by the “Boom on the Bridge” event, an annual fundraiser at the beginning of September to watch fireworks on the structure. This year, Baynum solutions is sponsoring the event. Tickets are $150 per person or $1,500 for a table for eight people.
“We’ve realized when folks can have events here, they just feel safe here and they can enjoy the community that this is the bridge to do so,” Weber continued. “We may not look like the Roebling with the iconic suspension, but it is safe, and it’s proudly purple.”
Additional repairs for the bridge are also underway, following a chunk of sandstone falling off of a pier in May last year that partially closed the bridge until November. Weber said the project should be completed by Labor Day.
“We’ll be in good shape, one project behind us, and hopefully we can do some preventative maintenance on the remaining piers that we have to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he noted.
Weber added they had hoped to have the permanent repairs done by last spring, but with “the engineering, the contractors, trying to figure out the best approach for the design/build, and make sure we can stay within budget and on-time," they weren’t able to.
The pier that lost the sandstone had been jacked up and braced in the meantime, and the contractor SSRG will refill the gap with rebar and concrete. The bridge is expected to remain open during construction.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on Aug. 29, 2022 at 10:10 a.m. to correct the state locations that the Purple People Bridge connects.