Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Old Ledbetter bridge continues to slip

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineers and inspectors have detected additional movement in west approach spans on the Old Ledbetter Bridge.  On April 30, transportation officials received word two approach span sections on the McCracken Side of the bridge had dropped about 2 ft.   The Old Ledbetter Bridge has been closed and awaiting demolition since traffic moved to the New US 60 Tennessee River Bridge on July 31, 2013.

When they investigated the April 30 report, inspectors found a land slip along the bluff below the bridge had moved two of the land-based piers.   Since that initial investigation, inspectors have regularly checked the aging structure for additional signs of movement.  In the last 48 hours, the approach spans have showed 2.25 inches of both vertical and horizontal movement, indicating the moving hillside is continuing to shift the land piers supporting the approaches at the west end of the bridge.

While an earlier assessment indicated a collapse of the approach spans is not likely to impact the main truss over the river navigation channel, KYTC District 1 Chief Engineer Mike McGregor said the additional approach movement has prompted engineers to take some additional precautions.

“First, we want to again urge the public to avoid areas beneath the approach spans on the McCracken County side of the river.  Second, we will be placing solar powered navigation lights on the main truss spans and piers in case power to the existing lights should be cut by an additional drop in the approach spans.  Third, we are continuing negotiations with contractors in an effort to expedite demolition of the bridge,” McGregor said.

Engineers are continuing to monitor the approach spans for movement.   Should the approaches fall, an inspection team is prepared to immediately check the main spans of the structure from the Livingston County end of the bridge to assure it is safe for passing river traffic.

Transportation officials have been in regular communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and McCracken County Emergency Management about the bridge and the land slippage along the bluff.

According to McCracken County Emergency Management Director Jerome Mansfield, no evacuation of homes along the bluff has been ordered.  However, residents of the area have been alerted to the land slippage and asked to report anything unusual that might indicate additional movement of land along the bluff.

McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden and deputies have placed caution tape along the Tennessee River shoreline to keep people away from the slumping approach spans and leaning piers.  Hayden reiterated an earlier warning that the public should avoid the area along the bluff near the bridge.

While vehicular traffic was moved off the Old Ledbetter Bridge last July when the New Ledbetter Bridge opened to traffic, the threat to the stability of the old structure became of concern to river traffic.  As a precaution, the US Coast Guard temporarily closed the Tennessee River to boat traffic on April 30.  That halt in barge traffic was lifted later in the day with an advisory that boats should avoid stopping between Tennessee River mile point 5.1 and 5.5.  Mariners should review the official Coast Guard Advisory.

Among others, Mansfield had asked the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Kentucky Geological Survey to check the site for additional signs of land movement.

Transportation Cabinet officials in Frankfort have been in negotiations aimed at expediting demolition of the bridge, likely starting with the ailing west approach spans.

With the recent landslide in Washington State, and the sinkhole that developed under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, and several sinkholes and landslides around the region, officials want residents of the area near the Old Ledbetter Bridge to be alert for any additional signs of land movement.

The Old Ledbetter Bridge opened to traffic in 1931.  It was restricted to a 3-ton load limit in January 2012 while the new bridge was under construction just upstream.  KYTC officials expedited construction of the new bridge and it opened to traffic on July 31, 2013, eleven months ahead of schedule.