A contractor for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has asked to delay the start of repairs on the U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge between Wickliffe, KY, and Cairo, IL, until after July 7, 2013. The project will require a 7-foot maximum load width which will exclude all but passenger vehicles from the river crossing for about 60 days.
Also known as the Cairo Bridge, the U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge carries U.S. 60 and U.S. 62 between Kentucky and Illinois. It immediately connects with the U.S. 60/U.S. 62 Mississippi River Bridge which carries traffic between Illinois and Missouri. Commercial trucks make up about 35 percent of the 5,500 vehicles that cross the U.S. 51 Ohio River each day, making it a key transportation link between Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri.
According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 1 spokesman Keith Todd, the agency wants truckers and suppliers who depend on the river crossing to be fully prepared for the coming project which will require trucks and other larger vehicles to detour.
“The bridge work zone will have a strictly enforced 7-foot maximum load width. That will limit the bridge to passenger vehicles and standard pickup trucks only. It may also exclude vehicles pulling trailers,” Todd said. “The load width is an attempt to maintain private passenger vehicle traffic for those who depend on the bridge to commute to and from work.”
Todd said the contractor would provide about a one week notice of a specific start date for the restrictions, but July 7th would be the earliest work could start. “We expect to provide regular updates as the start of work approaches and throughout the duration of the project,” Todd said. The project includes bridge deck stringer repairs, as well as replacement of seven joints on the bridge decking.
Excluding commercial trucks and other large vehicles such as RV’s from the bridge work zone turns a six-mile trip from Wickliffe to Cairo into about an 80-mile detour via the I-24 Ohio River Bridge at Paducah. Todd noted that by adjusting their route of travel farther out from the bridge, most larger vehicles can minimize their detour distances.
While the work will create a major inconvenience for area shippers, Todd emphasized that the maintenance and repair work is required to maintain the long-term reliability of the river crossing.
“We want to our industries and area farmers who regularly cross the bridge to be aware of the approaching work so they can make good logistical decisions to adapt to the coming traffic restriction,” Todd said. “As the schedule firms up, we will provide a specific start date for the project. This will impact tour bus traffic, people pulling boats, and any number of other vehicles that will prohibited from traveling through this work zone.”
The contractor is currently fabricating steel needed for the repair work. As that preliminary work nears completion, the contractor will schedule a more specific start date sometime after July 7. Todd noted that should shorten the length of the restrictions due to a strict mid-September completion requirement in the contract.
By maintaining passenger vehicle traffic, commuters who travel between Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri will still be able to get to and from work. The bridge will be restricted to one lane traffic and a strict 7 ft. load width due to equipment that will be needed on the bridge deck to accomplish the work.
The U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge was constructed by the Cairo Bridge Commission as a toll facility and opened to traffic on November 11, 1936. Tolls were removed from the crossing on November 11, 1948, when the highway departments of Kentucky and Illinois assumed responsibility for maintenance on the bridge.