Governor Steve Beshear today announced the immediate review of options for restoring the US 68/KY 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake after a large vessel struck the span last night and destroyed a main truss.
Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock will visit the bridge today and talk with local officials about the investigation, alternate routing, and impact on nearby communities.
"We are grateful that this wreck caused no injuries or loss of life. Since that bridge carries 2,800 cars every day, we were very fortunate that no one was on the span at that time," said Gov. Beshear. "We'll turn our attention to a full inspection of the bridge and determine what steps we can take next to speed up the replacement of that important artery."
A cargo ship hit the bridge deck Thursday night, which collapsed across the bow of the cargo ship. The bridge was designed so that if it were struck, only portions of the structure would fail, not the entire bridge. Inspectors estimate the gap in the bridge to be approximately 300 feet wide.
Search teams in boats from the Aurora Fire Department and Marshall County Rescue Squad found no indication that vehicles fell from the bridge when the vessel struck. The U.S. Coast Guard said the ship did not contain hazardous cargo.
Inspectors and emergency responders from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) rushed to the scene. KYTC engineers made a preliminary inspection and began an in-depth inspection this morning. They are evaluating the stability of the remaining parts of the bridge as well as assessing the damage.
"We had already committed in our new six-year highway plan to replace this bridge, because we know what an important route it is for our citizens in western Kentucky," said Lt. Gov. Abramson. "We will shift our focus to determining how to restore that route as quickly and safely as we can."
"At this moment, we're assessing the situation to see whether repair is feasible. We also will be exploring whether construction of the new bridge can be accelerated," said Sec. Hancock.
The two-lane bridge -- formally the Eggner's Ferry Bridge -- is at the western entrance to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. It opened to traffic in 1932. Its elevation was raised in 1943 when the Tennessee River was impounded to create Kentucky Lake.
On average, the bridge carries approximately 2,800 vehicles across the lake per day. The Transportation Cabinet is in the initial phases 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.
"I appreciate the quick response by the Governor and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to help this situation in western Kentucky," said Sen. Bob Leeper, of Paducah. "I look forward to working with them to explore all the available possibilities for a solution for the transportation needs of this area."
"I encourage our citizens to remain calm and patient as our state transportation officials investigate the structure and determine next steps," said Sen. Ken Winters, of Murray. "I thank the Governor and Transportation Secretary for their immediate attention to this matter, and I hope that they will fully explore many alternatives, even temporary bridges, to best serve the people of western Kentucky."
"I think Governor Beshear's plan for an immediate review of our available options is an excellent first step in getting this bridge back open," said Rep. Will Coursey, of Symsonia. "I have been working with House leaders to see what more we can do while we are in legislative session, and want the people to know that the General Assembly stands ready to act."
With loss of the bridge, motorists will be advised to take alternate routes, such as Interstate 24 around the northern end of Land Between the Lakes.