PADUCAH, Ky. — The U.S. 51 Ohio River “Cairo” Bridge has opened to normal two-lane traffic flow, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). A work zone with one-lane traffic, an 8 foot, 6-inch load width restriction, and alternating flow controlled by an automated signal that had slowed traffic for months was taken down Friday, Oct. 23.
Since work started June 8, the work zone has created delays of up to an hour or more during peak travel periods at the Ohio River crossing between Wickliffe, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois. In addition, the load-width restriction hampered commercial truckers, as well as farmers who needed to move equipment across the bridge.
The bridge was closed to all traffic during most of August to allow roadway improvements along the Kentucky approach embankment. That work included almost 2 miles of new concrete surface, a section of new asphalt pavement that raised the elevation of the driving surface, and the use of millings to reinforce shoulder areas. The road maintenance raised the pavement elevation about 16 inches to reduce the length of closures during extreme flood events.
The target completion date was originally Oct. 1; however, the timeline was extended because of a delay in the fabrication of steel finger joints for the bridge deck.
The U.S. 51 Ohio River “Cairo” Bridge serves as a north-south connector for U.S. 51, as well as a critical east-west transportation corridor for U.S. 60 and U.S. 62. The bridge carries about 7,000 vehicles a day between Kentucky and Illinois; about 35% of that is commercial trucks. The truck volume increases during harvest season as Kentucky farmers haul their grain to elevators in Cairo and Mound City.
KYTC District 1 Chief Engineer Kyle Poat expressed his appreciation to regular users of the bridge who have endured nearly six months of work-zone restrictions.
“We know this bridge maintenance and repair project has created a lot of inconvenience for commuters, truckers, and travelers,” Poat said. “We want to thank everyone who endured the work zone restrictions, as well as the extended detour during the closure. We think you’ll be pleased with the work. This project is designed to put the existing bridge in optimum condition as we continue the planning process for the future construction of a new bridge at this crossing.”
Construction of new bridge planned
Construction on a new Ohio River bridge on U.S. 51 is expected to start in five to 10 years. Citizens who want to provide input on planning for the engineering and construction of the bridge have until 5 p.m. CDT on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020; click here to review the proposals and leave comments. As of Monday morning, Oct. 26, KYTC said, 84 people had review online displays and information, and fill out a survey and leave written comments at the end.
KYTC Project Manager Chris Kuntz said he is pleased that the online presentation and survey have been well-received, and he urged anyone with an interest in the bridge to participate in the online meeting.
“With COVID-19 guidelines restricting our ability to hold an in-person public meeting, we weren’t sure how this online meeting might be received,” Kuntz said. “However, we have now surpassed the number of comments we received at the last public meeting. We’d like to see even more participate before the comment period ends on Friday. The project team will use this input to guide our decision-making as we move forward to construction of a new bridge starting in 5 to 10 years.”
Responses from the public review survey will become a part of the official record for the project. Once compiled, the meeting record will be available for review and copying after an Open Records Request is submitted and approved.
Opened on Nov. 11, 1938, the 82-year-old bridge is in fair condition with narrow lanes and shoulders. The purpose of the U.S. 51 Bridge Project is to improve cross-river mobility by addressing functional limitations of the existing bridge.
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