Crews have begun work on the Eggners Ferry Bridge almost three months after the 2,800-ton Delta Mariner NASA cargo ship collided with the main span, causing a 322-foot bridge section to collapse.
Several tons of twisted steel and roadway came crashing atop the ship and into the Kentucky Lake that night, leaving the bridge impassible and surface damaging the Delta Mariner.
Weeks later, the cargo vessel was moved upstream for repairs, but the bridge, a main traffic artery between extreme western Kentucky and the rest of the state, lay injured and untouched until now.
Early last week, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials began surface preparations to temporarily replace the missing bridge span. The work comes a month after Gov. Steve Beshear visited the bridge site and announced the acceptance of a $7 million bid proposal for repair work from Hall Contracting of Kentucky Inc. to complete work on the bridge by Memorial Day weekend.
The $7 million is being paid for with funds from a $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Kentucky was awarded the money earlier this month for damaged bridge projects as part of a $61,949,103 seven-state federal relief money effort fund.
KTC officials reported the additional money will be channeled into creating detours and assisting in the underwater cleanup effort.
The governor had originally eyed a temporary ferry service at a Feb. 14 visit to the damaged bridge, announcing fund allocations and bid proposals, but ended those efforts upon acquiring the new contract. He said concerns had arisen over a ferry service’s ability to meet the heavy demand on the U.S. 68/Ky. Hwy. 80 passage.
The Eggners Ferry Bridge carried an average of 2,600 cars per day, while typical American ferries can only carry 40 cars an hour, or 960 per day.
The current KTC work on the bridge is to ready the site for the arrival of contractors expected later this month.
Jim LeFevre, chief engineer for KTC District 1, said the work includes railing replacement repairs and deck patching.
“Our District 1 bridge crew has been working to make spot repairs to the bridge decking before the contractor arrives,” he said. “We have a guardrail contractor to replace and repair several sections of tube railing along the bridge deck. Our goal is to reduce the need for lane restrictions on the bridge once it reopens to traffic.”
The narrow bridge will be difficult to work on once the bridge has been repaired and traffic resumes, he said, creating hazards to drivers and putting KTC crews in danger.
“The work we’re doing now will keep lane restrictions to a minimum,” he said.
Once the repair span is finished, however, KTC crews will need to install new roadway and external navigation lighting. Drivers will also experience lane restrictions so AT&T can replace a fiber-optic communication cable that was severed during the crash, causing mass Internet failures in public schools across the region.
LeFevre said most of the work is being completed on the Trigg County side of the bridge near Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area.
Hill Inc. finalized steel fabrication days ago, readying the bridge for the month-long construction phase. Company employees have confirmed their intentions to a crew of about 40, to work around the clock until May 27 when construction is contracted to end.
If the company does not meet that deadline, Beshear’s contract outlines $50,000 fines for each day of construction past May 27.
Beshear’s proposed highway construction plan includes $330 million for the replacement of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge and its sister bridge just miles east of the it that spans Lake Barkley. The two bridges, slated to make basket-handle tied arch shapes over the two bodies of water, have been pushed back year after year due to state funding cuts but are important projects, Beshear said at his last visit to the bridge.
He said the proposed bridges would complete the four-lane extension of U.S. 68/Ky. Hwy. 80 that extends from Mayfield, Ky., to Cadiz, Ky.
The General Assembly spent the week back in session after passing the governor’s road proposals last week without necessary funding.
The United States Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board held public hearings this week in an attempt to better understand the circumstances that led to the destrustion of the bridge. For the extended story, click here.