Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 27, 2013

Bridge reopening pushed back

Kenneth Hart
CNHI News Service

ASHLAND — The completion date for repairs to the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge has been pushed back by about two weeks.

Replacement of the damaged steel beam on the span, which carries traffic from U.S. 52 in Coal Grove to Winchester Avenue, will take place the weekend of Aug. 9-12, according to District 9 of the Kentucky Department of Highways.

The original repair completion date was July 31. However, work is being restricted to weekends to reduce traffic impacts, transportation officials said. And, after coordinating schedules and safety plans with both Norfolk Southern railroad and the two state transportation departments, Aug. 9-12 is the contractor’s first available opportunity to make physical repairs on the bridge.

“These last two months, the Tri-State area has been severely inconvenienced by a vehicle accident and the subsequent traffic issues it has caused,” said Bart Bryant, District 9 Chief Engineer. “We appreciate the public’s continued patience as engineers and contractors move closer to reopening the bridge.”

 The Williamson bridge was damaged May 17 when a tractor-trailer hauling scrap crashed into the Ohio approach span after the driver made a left-hand turn onto the bridge, bending and twisting a steel support. Dennis J. Smith, 59, of South Point, was identified as the driver of the rig and charged by the Ohio State Highway Patrol with failure to control and leaving the scene of an accident.

Smith was in Ironton Municipal Court for a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, but the proceeding was continued until 9 a.m. Thursday, a court clerk said Friday. At that time, Smith is expected to either enter a plea or have his case set for trial.

Under Ohio law, leaving an accident scene is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Failure to control is a minor misdemeanor that carries a fine of $150.

Citing safety concerns, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineers closed the bridge on May 20 to ensure its structural integrity. A week later, highway crews had converted the adjacent Simeon Willis Memorial Bridge from one-way to two-way traffic, and structural design engineers had begun drawing up repair plans. The project was placed on a high-priority status, and a contract was awarded June 19 to Evers Welding Co. Inc. of Cincinnati.

 During the past five weeks, Evers Welding has been fabricating the replacement steel, mobilizing equipment and working with transportation engineers to finalize shop drawings and repair plans, as well as scheduling traffic control for the roadway and railway beneath the bridge, District 9 officials said.

 Repair plans call for high-capacity jacks to support the bridge while the damaged beam is removed and the new beam installed. Work is tentatively scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Aug. 9, and continue through early Aug. 12.

 To protect motorists, all traffic beneath the bridge will be diverted during that time. And, train flagmen will direct rail traffic. The following highway detour will be in effect: On U.S. 52 east, through traffic may take the Ashland bridge exit ramp near Coal Grove, proceed up the ramp, past the Ashland bridge turns and use the facing on ramp to re-enter U.S. 52 east of the work site. Motorists should watch message boards for direction.

 Ashland-bound traffic will continue using the U.S. 52 exit ramps to access the now two-way 13th Street bridge, so motorists should expect significant delays during construction.

 The Williamson bridge will reopen after work is complete and as soon as the structure is deemed safe to cross by transportation inspectors. If the weather permits and there are no unforeseen complications during repairs, the reopening could occur as early as Aug. 12.

 To keep the public up to date with what happened and with repair plans, District 9 has established a web page with detailed traffic maps, a traffic cam link, current bridge status, a project timeline and other information.

 The public may access the web page at Transportation.ky.gov/District-9/Pages/Ashland-Bridges.aspx, or at Transportation.ky.gov/District-9 by clicking “Ashland Bridges.”

 In addition, motorists may follow District 9 on Facebook at Facebook.com/KYTCDistrict9 or Twitter at Twitter.com/KYTCDistrict9 for updated Ashland bridges information as well as traffic and state highway project information across northeast Kentucky.

 KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2654.