Divers examine bridge piers for damage

Eggner's Ferry Bridge (Source: cNews Penny Kelly)
Eggner's Ferry Bridge (Source: cNews Penny Kelly)
Deck guardrail showing signs of being bent on the bridge (Source: KYTC)
Deck guardrail showing signs of being bent on the bridge (Source: KYTC)
The Delta Mariner after the bridge collapse with 1 span of the bridge wrapped around the bow. (Source: Marshall County SO)
The Delta Mariner after the bridge collapse with 1 span of the bridge wrapped around the bow. (Source: Marshall County SO)
(Source: Marshall County SO)
(Source: Marshall County SO)
(Source: Marshall County SO)
(Source: Marshall County SO)

MARSHALL COUNTY, KY (KFVS) - A dive team working examined three piers of the U.S. 68/KY 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake Tuesday to detect any critical shifting of the pier substructure.

The inspection area includes Pier 6, which may have shifted when a 8,400 ton cargo vessel carrying parts for NASA crashed into the 80-year-old bridge Thursday night.

A 322-foot span of the bridge was ripped away.

Engineers are looking at the lake floor to identify any movement in the mud around the piers. The dive team will not place sensors on the piers at this time.

The dive team spent most of the morning using sonar to produce a profile of the lake bottom around the piers to prevent divers from getting entangled in the debris.

Assessing the condition of the piers near the impact site will help determine strategies for replacing the missing bridge span to re-establish a river crossing for highway traffic at the site.

Some of the bridge superstructure and deck remain draped over the ship's bow.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet inspectors believe one of the piers may have moved as a result of the collision.


Meanwhile, people come from near and far just to get a look at the talk of the area.

The Delta Mariner still sits between the span of the Eggner's Ferry Bridge it took out Thursday night.

No one is allowed near the actual bridge so many gather with binoculars at lookout points near marinas.

People who are trying to get a close up view of the Eggner's Ferry Bridge can expect to be cited.

According to transportation officials, police agencies are planning to issue citations to sightseers who have made their way onto the US 68-KY Eggner's Ferry Bridge on Sunday.

On Friday, highways officials say they warned the public to stay off the remainder of the bridge for concerns about the safety of the remaining structure.

At one point Sunday afternoon, the US Coast Guard reported several hundred people out on the structure, according to officials at the scene.

Cause of crash

As onlookers wonder how it happened, the Coast Guard and NTSB investigate.

Lt. Ron Easley with the Coast Guard says they are looking into many factors including weather and lighting conditions on Thursday night, but have not yet decided if those factors came into play.

Keith Todd with KYTC says lights were working but navigational lights were out.  Electricians were scheduled to be on the bridge Friday.

Representatives with Foss Maritime say they can't comment on any aspect of the situation at this point.

Open to commercial traffic

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard has reopened commercial river traffic near the Eggner's Ferry Bridge.

The US Army Corps of Engineers says the navigable channel is safe for commercial traffic after completing a channel survey Friday evening and finding no obstructions or debris.

However, officials say there is a safety zone from mile marker 41 to mile marker 43 on either side of the bridge.

"That's basically what our safety zone is for," said a Lt. Ron Easley with the US Coast Guard. "We only want commercial traffic through at the time and they're going at the slowest safe speed that they can move it. We do not want recreational vessels and general public in the area. Specifically, for that reason is you know if something was to happen, it'd be you know a shame if somebody was in the area at the time."

According to the Coast Guard, they began allowing commercial vessels to move through the safety zone around 7 a.m. Saturday. These vessels are being asked to travel the slowest safe speed to make sure there is little wake. Vessels that need to travel through the safety zone must first contact the Coast Guard via VHF-FM on channel 16.

Recreational boat traffic is still restricted from moving through the safety zone.

"The Army Corps of Engineers have been a crucial partner in assuring that the channel is clear of debris and helping us get commerce moving," said Commander Claudia Gelzer, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Paducah. "We continue to focus on a comprehensive investigation to determine the cause of this accident and working with the ship's owner on a safe salvage plan."

They put in several new buoys to help with the commercial traffic.

Detour for drivers

Alternate options for drivers if the bridge cannot be replace is a ferry service in the near future.

Keith Todd with KYTC says several county judges are already working to try to find solutions to try to minimize economic impact.

With closure of the bridge, KYTC has posted signs to detour through-traffic onto Interstate 24, which circles north of Land Between the Lakes. Drivers 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.

The Kentucky State Police request that drivers who normally travel westbound on US 68 through the Land between the Lakes to please avoid LBL and KY 453 or The Trace as well as US 68. KSP request drivers to instead use the Interstate 24 corridor to the purchase parkway to access this area.

Despite bridge closure, Land Between the Lakes still open.

Closure of the bridge does not mean closure of Land Between the Lakes. Travelers wishing to enter and visit the nationally renowned recreation area and nearby Lake Barkley can still do so:

  • From east and south – I-24 to Exit 65, then west on U.S.68/80 through Cadiz and Trigg County.
  • From north and west – I-24 to Exit 31 or U.S. 62 to Lake City, then south on KY 453 through Grand Rivers and onto The Trace, a scenic roadway that runs the length of the recreation area.

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.

Shifting pier

Also, the ramming of the cargo vessel into the Eggner's Ferry Bridge Thursday evening may have caused a pier to shift.

The issue is the bridge pier at the eastern edge of impact.

"It could be a game changer for us," said Keith Todd of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. "Before we were looking at it like the pier was stable. Then we could consider replacing that span. If the pier is moving that idea goes out the window."

"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."

KYTC inspectors have been conducting an emergency examination of the bridge's piers and remaining truss spans, according to Keith Todd with KYTC.

Todd says those west of the impact area were believed 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.

Transportation officials say on Saturday afternoon a LBL Ranger noticed that something had apparently changed on the bridge.

Deck guardrail, where the deck transitions from an approach span to the last truss span, is showing signs of being bent where the two spans join.  Inspectors say this may provide an additional indication that a pier on the truss section has shifted since yesterday, according to KYTC officials.

This indication of possible instability also reinforces our request that the public stay off the bridge.

A dive team was scheduled to place sensors on the bottom of the pier. The sensors measure degree of tilt and can detect changes if the pier is moving, but KYTC officials now say if the pier has moved there should be indications on the lake floor that can be detected.

Secretary Hancock said it will take a few weeks to collect and analyze the data.

According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd, that is a busy corridor through which a great deal of cargo passes.

That's why KYTC inspectors are working to complete the bridge inspection. They, along with the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, will determine if the remaining structure is sturdy enough to be considered safe for vessels to pass beneath it.

Friday, inspectors completed a check of the western portion of the remaining bridge structure and concluded that it is stable.  That wasn't the case with the eastern part of the bridge.

Inspectors say it is possibly unstable and they ordered everyone off except essential workers.

No one was killed and no one was hurt when the bridge collapsed.

"It may be a while before our investigation is concluded," said Lt. Ron Easley, of the Coast Guard. "It's hard to put a time frame on when we can determine the cause."

Just after the bridge collapse

The National Transportation Board and the Coast Guard are investigating the crash. The crew and captain are still on the vessel and are being interviewed by the Coast Guard.

KYTC spokesperson Keith Todd says the two spans of the bridge collapsed. At least one of those spans was wrapped around the bow of the ship.

[See a slideshow of the collapsed bridge.]

Todd said, "God was watching over some people last night, and we're glad."

When the ship hit the bridge, Todd says there were four cars on the bridge and an off duty officer about to cross. None of the cars were on the collapsed sections and no one was injured. The off duty officer quickly closed the bridge to traffic.

Keith Todd is calling it a "miracle" that there was no loss of life. The captain of the Delta Mariner also told officials there are no reported injuries among the 20 crew members on board the ship.

History of bridge and Delta Mariner

The Delta Mariner is an ocean going vessel that routinely makes runs through Kentucky Lake shipping parts for NASA. Several state, federal and local officials were at the site Friday trying to figure out what to do now.

"We certainly want to start working with the state and federal officials to make sure we can expedite getting this bridge back into place because, it is going to be quite an interruption to our traffic pattern," said Ky. US Rep. Ed Whitfield.

The cargo vessel is designed to navigate shallow inland waters as well as the ocean. The Delta Mariner has significant damage but is still on the water. The equipment it was carrying was not damaged.

Kentucky State Police say anyone who normally uses us 68 to cross the bridge should take 68 north to the Purchase Parkway. Take that to Interstate 24. Follow I-24 all the way around until it meets up again with us 68 - 80 on the other side of the land between the lakes in Trigg County. That's a little more than 60 miles one way.

The US 68-KY 80 Eggner's Ferry Bridge is at US 69 Marshall County mile point 28.146 and Trigg County mile point 0.0 at the western entrance to Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, according to Ky. transportation officials.

Todd says the bridge opened to traffic in March 1932.  In 1943 the bridge was closed for 6 months to allow the bridge to be raised to accommodate higher water levels due to the impounding of Kentucky Lake.

A KYTC traffic count conducted in 2009 showed 2,650 vehicles per day crossed the bridge.

Statements from officials

The United Lanch Alliance Company released this following statement:

"The Delta Mariner, owned and operated by Foss Marine, made contact with the Eggner Ferry Bridge at U.S. Highway 68 and Kentucky Highway 80 over the Tennessee River Thursday evening, Jan. 26 at 8:15 p.m. Central Time resulting in a portion of the bridge collapsing. The 312-foot vessel was carrying vehicle components for an upcoming United Launch Alliance launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There are no injuries on the Mariner or the bridge. Initial inspections have shown that the flight hardware being transported was not damaged.  The Coast Guard is conducting an investigation."

"The Delta Mariner was commissioned in 2002 to transport flight hardware from the United Launch Alliance factory in Decatur, Ala., to launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif."

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell released this statement about the bridge collapse..  "I am thankful that reports indicate no one was injured in last night's cargo ship accident at Eggner Ferry Bridge. My office remains in contact with state officials and I have sent a staff member to the scene to update me. I will continue to closely monitor the situation."

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