Bridge determined structurally sound

Austin Ramsey
News Editor

The piers adjacent the 322-foot missing section of the Eggners Ferry Bridge are structurally sound, state officials announced late last week.

At a news conference in Frankfort, Ky., Friday, Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters there was “no significant damage” to the piers, following a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet investigation led by Chief District Engineer Jim LeFevre.

On Jan. 26, the Delta Mariner, an 8,600-ton ocean-going vessel carrying rocket parts collided into the bridge, bringing debris onto the ship and the surrounding water.

The ship, on its way to Cape Canaveral, Fla., waited with the wreckage on its bow for nearly two weeks, before the KTC assisted a local company in removing the fallen tresses. The U.S. Coast Guard gave the ship the go-ahead to dock in Paducah, Ky., where Foss Maratime (the ship’s owner) workers repaired the ships bow.

The news triggered a sigh of relief for many state workers, who feared remaining portions of the bridge were gradually toppling after reports that portions of railing along the deck had buckled since the collision.

Both LeFevre and Beshear visited the site of the bridge earlier last week, where the governor said he hoped to be able to make Friday’s announcement soon to help alleviate traffic issues caused by the gapped crossing.

The bridge carried nearly 3,000 cars each day to and from far-western Kentucky at the western entrance of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area. Beshear called U.S. 68/Ky. Hwy. 80 a vital artery in intrastate transportation and LBL one of Kentucky’s most important tourism sites.

The governor said state officials would have a better idea of the necessary steps to take with this new information.

“From the beginning, our engineers, working with expert consultants whom we brought in, have been planning for repairs under multiple scenarios,” Beshear said. “But now we have a better idea of exactly what we are dealing with.”

Collins Engineers Inc., a Chicago-based consultant company assisted the KTC in making site assessments of piers five, six and seven over the past two weeks.

Keith Todd, spokesperson for the KTC, said those assessment investigations included the use of a dive team to attach acoustic measuring devices on those piers to measure vibrations caused by the feared shifting of the piers out from their settled positions in the lakebed. He said other teams rappelled off the deck of the bridge to measure cracks in the piers and attached laser sensors on them to measure possible movement.

Beshear visited the bridge on Feb. 15, where he announced the state would initiate a ferry service as a part-time fix for the fallen bridge span.

In Friday’s conference, the governor said those plans are still underway so that traffic may partially resume, but he said a replacement span would go into construction phase as soon as possible. A replacement span will take several months to build, he said, and will almost definitely include the necessary construction of up to two more bridge piers.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock, who also attended the Friday news conference, said more work is to be done at the site before construction.

“We’re still gathering information on the bridge piers. But the engineering dive team found that the base of the bridge structure is substantially sound,” Hancock said. “With the existing piers as a sound starting point, this should help simplify efforts to replace the missing truss and deck section taken out by the ship.”

A project to replace the obsolete Eggners Ferry Bridge and a similarly aged and obsolete bridge over Lake Barkley, on the other side of LBL has was launched previous to the incident. Beshear sent a recommended highway plan to the General Assembly last month which proposed $330 million in construction funding. However, it will take years to complete the two new, four-lane bridges.