Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 30, 2012

ODOT officials give OK to span

Ironton-Russell Bridge briefly closed

Mark Maynard
The Independent

RUSSELL — The Ironton-Russell Bridge was closed Monday evening for a short time and then reopened after being inspected by the Ohio Department of Transportation officials.

The 90-year-old span was shut down around 7 p.m. after a law enforcement officer noticed damage. Part of the bridge deck appeared to have dropped, according to reports.

The ODOT officials were satisfied the bridge was safe for travel and reopened it to traffic around 8:20 p.m.

The aging span, which is scheduled to be replaced, connects Russell with Ironton.

When a new bridge over the Ohio River between Russell and Ironton opens, the existing span will be demolished, according to ODOT plans. The new bridge will connect near the viaduct on U.S. 23. It will come at a cost of $81.2 million.

Several ODOT employees from the local garage, along with contractors working on construction of the new bridge, inspected it at approximately 8 p.m. and determined it was safe to reopen the bridge.

The issue appeared to be tied to expansion joints near an abutment on the Ohio side, potentially tied to the rapid change in temperature, and has happened in the past, according to Kathleen Fuller, Public Information Officer for ODOT’s District 9.

The bridge is monitored by a number of stress sensors 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. None of those reflected any readings that would indicate problems, according to Fuller.

A full inspection is scheduled for today, but the high winds and storms, because of Hurricane Sandy, could slow the process and may require lane restrictions or a short-term closure.

The existing bridge was built in 1922 to last 50 years or so and is still in service 90 years later. The new bridge has a 100-year life expectancy due in part to construction materials — the two towers that support the cable-stay span will be made of concrete, inherently longer-lasting than steel.

The new span has a three-year building schedule that started this spring with clearing banks on the Kentucky and Ohio sides of the river and building of caissons in which the concrete piers will be poured.

All the approach work should be done by the end of this year, including abutments and most of the piers and 15 percent of the first 300-foot tower will be up.

The next year should see the towers growing higher and the year after that most of the cables will be in place between the towers and the deck.

Completion is expected by the end of 2015 and in 2016 the company will demolish the old bridge.

Some civic boosters had said they would like the old span to remain as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge and as a festival and sightseeing venue, but that is an outside chance, according to transportation officials.

Other towns have successfully kept old bridges in service for nonvehicle traffic. Cincinnati’s Purple People Bridge is one. Restored in 2001 by the city of Newport and an economic development group at a cost of $4 million, the bridge now carries pedestrians and sightseers. It is the subject of some controversy after receiving a $650,000 grant from the state of Kentucky toward building a hotel on the span.

There are major obstacles for making the old Ironton-Russell bridge a pedestrian walkway.

One is that no eligible party wants it. When the Ohio Department of Transportation first planned a replacement, the department offered to turn over the old span to the cities of Ironton and Russell. Both cities turned the offer down flat because of expense and liability.

Even without motor vehicles using it, the bridge would require some level of regular inspection, according to ODOT. The state schedules yearly inspections that cost close to $1 million.

While inspections of a pedestrian bridge might be less stringent, they would remain essential in part because of river traffic, ODOT officials said. The bridge would have to remain sound enough, for instance, to resist the impact of an errant barge.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.