Friday, January 27, 2012

Eggner's Ferry and other bridges comments

The Eggner's Ferry Bridge, a portion of which has collapsed into Kentucky Lake after being hit (or taken out) by a barge, has been mentioned in this blog at least three times since I began writing a little over five years ago. At just under 2/3 of a mile in length, it takes one - if headed eastbound - from near the Calloway and Marshall County line across the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake into Trigg County and the famous Land Between the Lakes. It is a narrow two-lane structure first opened in 1932 which has been on the obsolete list for some time and plans have been in the making to replace it. A construction plan for a new bridge calls for that to happen between now and 2017. (The picture at left is taken from the WPSD website in Paducah).

I've driven across it many times, most recently in August 2011, when after making the eastbound trek into the LBL, I stopped to dip my feet into the waters of the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake at Elbow Bay. The bridge is part of the famous southern Kentucky highway corridor of US68/KY80. Once in the LBL, the road has been widened considerably as part of a plan to three- or four-lane the route from Bowling Green west to Paducah (which includes the KY121 (new KY80) route to Mayfield and US45 route into Paducah). About the only portions left to be widened are the Eggner's Ferry Bridge at one end of the LBL and the Henry Lawrence Memorial Bridge at the other leading into Canton.

The loss of the bridge is devastating for the local community. Approximately 2800 cars cross the narrow span each day on average. My guess is this number is much higher in the summer during the vacation season to the LBL than it is in the winter, so if there are any silver linings, something I always search for, it is that the span will hopefully be back in place sometime this year at the ready for summertime travellers. Otherwise, travellers will have to trek either the 30 miles to the north to cross at Gilbertsville along the new US62 or I-24, or 45 miles to the south and the crossing on US79 at Paris Landing, Tennessee. Either way makes for a long commute.

Putting the closing of the bridge into perspective is easy. I often complain, especially in the spring, when my street, or those in my neighborhood, is closed for a few hours on Saturday or Sunday mornings to accommodate runners in some competition. There seems to be one every weekend leading up to the big daddy, the Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon. It creates delays for me that I don't appreciate, even on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning, but this is, frankly, a minor problem. Here along the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606, we have been living, since September 9th of last year, with a major bridge closure. The Sherman Minton Bridge carrying I-64 and US150 across the Ohio River connects Floyd County, Indiana, population 74578, with Jefferson County, Kentucky, population 741096 - a combined population of 815674. The Sherman Minton is estimated to carry approximately 80000 cars a days, or just under 10% of the local population. It was closed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels - Indiana owns the bridge even though Kentucky owns the river - after a routine inspection found some loose bolts and "cracks in the main load-bearing structure" [official words]. While the Eggner bridge wasn't closed after an inspection, it has, as previously stated, been deemed structurally obsolete. Using the population of Trigg County and the average of Calloway and Marshall counties, one arrives at a total of 47132. Carrying 2800 cars daily works out to about 6% of the local population. Even though the impact is only three-fifths as much as that of our local brdige closing, it is still significant and shouldn't be dismissed.

But, as the title of this entry reads, there are other comments to be made with regard to bridges in general. Bridges have been a topic of discussion in this community for many years, the last fifteen of which have focussed on completing the I-265 loop from Prospect, Kentucky to Utica, Indiana, a proposal I support but something we just can't seem to get accomplished. There is also the plan to rebuild and reconstruct the I-64/65/71 intersection in downtown Louisville and build a second span carrying I-65 across the Ohio from Louisville to Jeffersonville, Indiana, a proposal I do not personally support.

We've recently seen the completion of US231 across the Ohio at Maceo in Daviess County to Rockport in Spencer County, Indiana and can witness the ongoing construction of the Milton-Madison Bridge carrying US421 traffic from Trimble County, Kentucky to Jefferson County, Indiana. The point here is that there must be a commitment to infrastructure, both for replacement costs as well as the occasional and unfortuante accidents such as that on the Tennessee River and the Eggner's Ferry Bridge. But that commitment isn't limited to bridges over major rivers such as the Ohio or the Tennessee. Our system of highways across the country are, for the most part, in great disrepair. And while they fall further and further into disrepair, we continue to build newer roads connecting an ever-increasing driving public. We presently have plans on the books in Jefferson County for four entirely new highways, two of which connect Shelbyville and Taylorsville roads - one inside and one outside the Snyder; another connecting Preston Highway with Bardstown Road - again, outside the Snyder; and another connecting the Outer Loop and I-65 with the Snyder, west of the present Minor's Lane.

At some point, we have to question the logic, financially, of the continued building of new roads. At some point, the allegedly high costs of light rail both within cities and connecting cities must be recognized as being a long-term advantage economically. My friend Daniel Borsch knows a lot more - a whole lot more - about this matter than I do and he and I have been discussing it for years. His discussions have been ahead of their time - but the times are catching up and we must sooner or later address them. Sooner would be better.

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.