Beshear takes first step in gaining federal help


Gov. Steve Beshear declared the site of the Eggners Ferry Bridge collapse a regional state emergency. The Delta Mariner crashed into it on Jan. 26. || Kylie Townsend/The News

Austin Ramsey
News Editor

State officials hope to be able to move forward in the replacement of a missing span on the Eggners Ferry Bridge with the availability of federal funding.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Feb. 24 formally declaring the bridge site a regional state emergency, almost a month after an ocean-going vessel crashed into it, causing a 322-foot portion of the roadway to collapse on the bow of the ship.

Officials with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet agree the governor’s measure is the first step in the process for paying for a replacement span through the Federal Highway Administration.

Beshear visited the site two weeks ago and announced the state would be moving ahead in paying for a ferry service to restore as much traffic on the U.S. 68/Ky. Hwy. 80 pass as possible.

Later that same week, the governor announced the bridge was structurally safe to handle constructing a temporary span that would require additional piers, increasing the cost.

But with this proclamation, Beshear can request federal funds to pay for both the ferry and replacement span projects. He said restoring the almost 3,000 car-a-day traffic over the Kentucky Lake platform was his utmost priority.

“We continue to explore every possible avenue in our efforts to restore traffic to this vital highway in western Kentucky,” Beshear said in his emergency declaration. “My executive order is one more step toward that objective. By working with our partners at FHWA, we hope to speed the process as much as possible.”

Keith Todd, spokesperson for the KTC, said the process after the governor’s order is comparable to that after the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 45.

Todd stressed that the extent of damage at the Minneapolis site was far more extensive than the Eggners Ferry Bridge collapse. He said the cleanup funding would likely follow a similar pattern, however. President George W. Bush’s immediate move to order that site a disaster area, allowed the FHWA to swiftly move in and aid in the cleanup and reconstruction work.

Todd said there is no set timeline for the completion of a replacement span project.

“If this goes through, (FHWA) should provide a fairly substantial amount,” he said.

Todd said no money would go into a new bridge, slated to be completed in the next five years.

Beshear’s proposed highway budget before the General Assembly has $330 million set aside for the new bridge.

KTC crews are still monitoring the existing bridge to ensure its structural stability.