Gov. Steve Beshear announced a push to instate a temporary ferry service at the U.S. 68/ Ky. Hwy. 80 crossing over the Kentucky Lake today, after a cargo ship damaged the existing bridge late last month.
The Delta Mariner, a 2,800-ton freight vessel collided with the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge on Jan. 26, bringing a 322-foot span of the bridge crashing down on the ship and the water around it.
The governor flew to the eastern shore of the Kentucky Lake to assess the damage first-hand with Chief District Engineer Jim LeFevre of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Beshear told a group of reporters in front of the bridge he was thankful no one had been hurt in the bridge collision, but it was the now the state’s responsibility to restore traffic on the bridge, which carried about 2,800 cars a day.
“It’s not a great answer because of the amount of traffic on this highway, but it is at least a partial answer and a little bit of help not only for our traffic but for our businesses, for our parks, for the tourism trade and for folks that need to go back and forth,” he said.
Several steps will be taken by the state in the coming weeks to prepare for a ferry, he said, including removing bridge debris and dredging a route across the lake, working with the Tennessee Valley Association, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The state Finance and Administrative Cabinet began work today to approve paperwork on paying for the temporary ferry service, and Beshear said he plans to return to Frankfort to finalize that transaction.
The state is monitoring the bridge and piers on either side of the missing span, especially on the eastern side near Trigg County, after the KTC reported possible movement along the floor of the lake two weeks ago.
Beshear said he hoped to have news from state investigators within the next few days, to determine whether or not to move forward in repairing the fallen bridge.
“We hope in the next couple of weeks that we will be able to declare that what we have is safe enough for us to utilize in any options that we’re looking at,” he said. “If they are safe, then we are obviously looking at a temporary span here that could reopen this highway.”
But LeFevre told reporters that the replacement process could be more complicated than it sounds. Because the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge is partially supported with an above-deck truss, he said, a separate support system will be required to hold up the missing section.
LeFevre said that may require up to two additional piers under the repair.
This bridge and its sister over Barkley Lake, a short drive east of the fallen structure, were slated to be replaced within the next six years. Beshear said he plans to move ahead with those plans.
“I want to see those bridges built while I’m governor,” he said to a spatter of applause. “And I’m governor for four years.”
The announcement came a day after Foss Maritime, the company that owns the ship, filed a federal lawsuit, asking for exoneration from any liability concerning the incident.
Since the ship hit the span, officials have been called in to question regarding the navigation lights on the bridge.
The lawsuit claims not all lights were in full operation on the foggy Thursday night the ship hit it, contributing to the incident.
“Obviously, the courts will handle that, and we’ll wind our way through the court system, Beshear said. “Suffice it to say, I’m at least told that this vessel was way out of the main channel and all you’ve got to do is look at this bridge head-on and see where the ship should have been. So, we’ll see how that goes, but we’re not going to let lawsuits stand in our way of moving this forward as fast as possible.”
Trigg County Judge-Executive Stan Humphries and Marshall County Judge-Executive Mike Miller joined the governor on his visit. The two agreed that the temporary ferry fix is the best of about six options the state has been reviewing for three weeks.
Miller said he hopes it will lessen the dramatic affect the damaged bridge has had on tourism in his county west of the lake.
“It’s a temporary fix, sure,” he said, “but it would sure help a lot of people out.”