Here in the Heartland, many people drive across bridges often, but have you ever wondered how safe they are? The bridge between Cairo and Wickliffe over the Ohio River is almost 80 years old.
Kentucky Transportation officials say it’s safe, but a recent study shows the bridge is going to have to be replaced or majorly repaired.
The good news is we’ve got several years before officials start calling the bridge unsafe.
The bridge was built in the 1930’s and has carried a lot of cars and trucks across the Ohio River.
“Within about the next 15 years or so, we are going to have to be moving toward replacing the bridge or coming up with some other solution,” said Keith Todd with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Drivers agree, it’s time for a change.
“It’s old, I know that, they’ve just did a little temporary work now and then on it but I imagine it needs some major repairs,” Henry Elias said.
About 5,400 vehicles drive across this bridge every day, out of those, 35 percent are trucks.
“It has more than double the normal truck traffic,” Todd said.
It’s used a lot, but should it be based on its safety rating? Todd says “yes.”
“The bridge is fairly safe and considering that it’s still providing us with good use and the taxpayers with value after 70 some years of being in service, is really a testament to the quality of engineering and construction when the bridge was originally built,” Todd said.
In a recent study, transportation authorities found the bridge has a sufficiency rating of 39.8 on a 100 point scale. Anything less than a 50 rating is eligible for federal funding for replacement or rehabilitation.
But Todd says still, as of now, there’s not enough money for this project.
“At this point, we don’t have any additional funding,” Todd said.
The same study has deemed the bridge both “Functionally Obsolete” and “Structurally Deficient.”
The terms might sound scary but, many bridges in the Heartland fall under the same category.
“We have several that are what we would call structurally deficient, actually about 2,000 in the state,” said Matt Sieler with the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Sieler says the term means there is something unusual about the bridge.
“It doesn’t mean the bridge isn’t safe, it’s just, we keep an eye on it,” Sieler said.
Sieler says like all transportation departments, Missouri follows federal regulations on bridge safety.
“We make sure all our bridges are safe. If a bridge isn’t safe, we close it or let a contractor replace it,” Sieler said.
As for the US 51 bridge, if workers do nothing, it’ll likely be closed to all traffic by 2030.
“We’ve got a window here of about 15 years to replace or rehabilitate this structure,” Todd said.
Under the new project, the bridge would have things like wider lanes and shoulders, accommodations for pedestrians, and the bridge approaches would be changed.
New bridges like the ones over the Barkley and Kentucky lakes include some of those changes.
It’s a project that drivers say they’re looking forward to.
“I hate to see it get to where some of these bridges in the area are getting in bad shape and collapsing and all that and I just hope that whatever they can do, it keeps it open,” Elias said.
Todd says this project is still in the very early stages. There’s no word yet on exactly where the replacement bridge would go, although Todd says it’d likely be within two miles of where it is now.
The estimated cost of a new bridge is more than $236 million.
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