MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY (KFVS) - What started as a drop in two approach spans at the west end of the Old Ledbetter Bridge over the Tennessee River has turned into a multi-agency response to land slippage along a bluff on the McCracken County side of the river.
Inspectors went to the bridge on Wednesday morning expecting to find that rockers at the top of the approach span piers had collapsed. Concern about the rockers prompted a 3 ton load limit being placed on the bridge for more than a year before it closed to vehicle traffic in July 2013. An inspection of the incident found land along the bluff at the base of the approach piers had moved downhill several feet causing the two approach spans to drop about 3 to 4 ft. where they join.
Through the day the investigation has expanded. At this time, McCracken County Emergency Management is taking the lead in monitoring the land slippage.
According to McCracken County Emergency Management Director Jerome Mansfield, no evacuation of homes along the bluff has been ordered. However, on Wednesday afternoon McCracken County Sheriff's Deputies went door to door in the area to make nearby residents aware of the land slip.
"Residents along the bluff should be diligent and report any unusual sounds, land movement, or cracks in the soil and report those immediately so prompt action can be taken," Mansfield said. "Anyone who sees anything unusual should report it to the local 911 call center immediately."
While vehicular traffic was moved off the Old Ledbetter Bridge last July when the New Ledbetter Bridge opened to traffic, the threat to the stability of the old structure became of concern to river traffic. As a precaution, the US Coast Guard temporarily closed the Tennessee River to boat traffic. That halt in barge traffic is being lifted by the Coast Guard with an advisory that boats should avoid stopping between Tennessee River mile point 5.1 and 5.5. Mariners should review the official Coast Guard Advisory.
At this time, KY Transportation Cabinet geotechnical specialists and engineers are looking at the land slippage. KYTC officials are also looking at ways to expedite demolition of the old bridge.
Among others, Mansfield has requested the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Kentucky Geological Survey to send personnel to the site to assess conditions along the bluff.
"We've asked the state Division of Emergency management to come on site to provide additional input," Mansfield said.
He also noted that with the recent landslide in Washington State, and the sinkhole that developed under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., officials want to get a good grasp of the situation.
The McCracken County Emergency Management Agency has set up a command post and will have personnel monitoring the area through the night and for the next few days.
KYTC has already requested bids to demolish the aging structure. However, the bids were above engineer estimate and are being evaluated.
The Old Ledbetter Bridge was opened to traffic in 1931. It was restricted to a 3-ton load limit in January 2012 prompting an effort to speed up the construction of the New Ledbetter Bridge just upstream.
US 60 traffic between Livingston County and McCracken County was moved to the new bridge at the end of July 2013, 11 months ahead of schedule.
At this time there does not appear to be a threat to river traffic at the site, according to KYTC.
However, the public is advised to avoid the area around the McCracken County end of the old bridge, including the shoreline of the Tennessee River.