PADUCAH, Ky. (KFVS) - A contractor for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet planned an extended closure of the U.S. 51 Ohio River “Cairo” Bridge starting on Saturday, August 1 at 6:30 a.m.
The bridge is expected to be closed for about 30 days to allow extensive maintenance work along a nearly 2-mile section of the Kentucky approach levee and an ongoing deck maintenance project on the bridge to be finished summer 2020.
When the bridge closed on Aug. 1, a normal 5-mile drive between Wickliffe, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois, became an 80-mile detour via the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge at Paducah.
There will be no officially marked detour. However, KYTC said motorists and truckers are advised to self-detour via the I-24 Ohio River Bridge at Paducah to U.S. 45 North at Metropolis, Illinois, then take Illinois Route 169 through Karnak to Illinois Route 37 South to Cairo or to connect to Interstate 57 into Missouri. Motorists at Cairo will reverse that route.
A detour via the Dorena-Hickman Ferry will not be available immediately, as the ferry will be closed through at least August 5 for repairs.
The estimated 30-day closure will also allow critical work on the bridge deck through the curve at the Kentucky end of the structure.
According to KYTC, the placement of a concrete latex overlay along the curve would have required the bridge to be closed to semi trucks for an extended period. Closing the bridge and the Kentucky approach to all traffic will allow all of the work to be completed more quickly.
The bridge carries U.S. 51, U.S. 60 and U.S. 62 traffic across the Ohio River between Wickliffe, Ky. and Cairo, Ill. at U.S. 51 Kentucky mile point 7.372.
Also known as the Cairo Bridge, it connects with the U.S. 60/U.S. 62 Mississippi River Bridge that connects Illinois and Missouri.
According to KYTC District 1 Chief Engineer Kyle Poat, engineers and contractors came up with six options to allow all of the work to be finished in the 2020 construction season. Considering the impact to traffic, timeline and costs, KYTC said a 30-day closure of the bridge was the best alternate.
“We looked at several scenarios, including overnight and weekend closures. Those options created numerous side issues for area businesses, truckers, and our daily commuters,” Poat said. “By closing the bridge for 30 days, we speed up the construction process so we can get the bridge back to near-normal traffic flow sooner rather than later. Some of the options included overnight and weekend closures. Those options created numerous side issues for cross-country travelers, area businesses, truckers, and our daily commuters. The additional construction time would have extended the impact to traffic by 12 weeks.”
Poat said they made the decision after talking to area government officials, farmers, trucking companies and businesses that depend on the corridor.
He said a recent traffic count to plan for the project showed 7,000 vehicles cross the bridge in an average day, with 35 percent of that being commercial trucks. That count is up from 4,800 per day in 2019.
According to KYTC, maintenance along a nearly 2-mile section of the Kentucky approach levee was stopped on June 6 when traffic backed up more than 5 miles and caused gridlock in Wickliffe. On June 10, the contractor moved ahead with a work zone for bridge deck and joint work while discussions continued on how to best finish the levee work with the least amount of disruption.
The bridge continues to be down to one lane with a maximum 8.5-foot load width. Drivers and truckers should be prepared for a 2,900-foot section of one-lane traffic controlled by an automated signal on the main span of the bridge. Traffic delays are likely during peak travel periods.
The target completion date for the $8,060,092 project is October 1, 2020.