A dive team from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) plans to place sensors on a pier of the U.S. 68/KY 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake to help determine how badly it was damaged when a cargo vessel rammed the bridge Thursday night. The crash involving the vessel Delta Mariner knocked out a 322-foot span of the venerable bridge between Marshall County and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky. The combined-route highway, which runs east-west, is now closed indefinitely.
At issue is the bridge pier at the eastern edge of the impact area. “We have to know for certain whether the pier has been shifted, and if so, whether it is still moving,” Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said Saturday. “That will have a huge influence on our decisions as we weigh the options for restoring traffic on U.S. 68 and KY 80.”
Since the crash, KYTC inspectors have been conducting an emergency examination of the bridge’s piers and remaining truss spans. Those extending west of the impact area were deemed to be stable, but inspectors on Friday found indications that the pier on the eastern edge of the impact area had been pulled out of position.
Next week, conditions permitting, a dive team will begin placing sensors on the bottom of the pier. The sensors measure degree of tilt and can detect changes if the pier is moving. Secretary Hancock said it will take a few weeks to collect and analyze the data.
The two-lane bridge – formally the Eggners Ferry Bridge – opened to traffic in 1932. Its elevation was raised in 1943 when the Tennessee River was impounded to create Kentucky Lake. A KYTC traffic count conducted in 2009 showed 2,650 vehicles per day crossed the bridge.
The Transportation Cabinet is in the process of replacing the bridge, along with the nearby bridge over Lake Barkley on the eastern side of Land Between the Lakes. Preconstruction work, including geotechnical drilling, began months ago. Gov. Steve Beshear’s recommended highway plan, which he sent to the General Assembly on Jan. 17, contains $165 million in construction funding for a new Kentucky Lake bridge from 2013 through 2015.
With closure of the bridge, KYTC has posted signs to detour traffic onto Interstate 24, which circles north of Land Between the Lakes. Motorists also can get around Land Between the Lakes via U.S. 62 on the northern end and KY 121 – becoming Tennessee 119 – on the south.