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U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge Study Kicks-off

February 11, 2013

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The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced the kickoff of a study to look at options for improving or replacing the U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge – also known as the Cairo Bridge – between Wickliffe, Ky., and Cairo, Ill.

The 76-year-old structure, which carries U.S. 60 and U.S. 62, is officially termed “functionally obsolete” because it does not meet current traffic standards. 

The driving width of the bridge deck is less than 23 feet and it carries a high percentage of commercial truck traffic. The nearest alternate upstream river crossing is the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge at Paducah, Ky., which requires a nearly two-hour detour. 

The nearest crossings downstream are the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, and the I-155 Mississippi River Bridge between Dyersburg, Tenn., and Caruthersville, Mo.

“The Cairo Bridge continues to be an important transportation link for nearby communities in Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, as well as for cross-country travel,” said Mike McGregor, project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “The study goal is to identify options for a constructible and affordable bridge that will maintain the reliability this important crossing into the future.”

McGregor noted that this is a long-range process, putting construction of any suggested option years into the future.

In coming weeks and months, project team members may be visible in area communities; conducting traffic counts, evaluating bridge conditions, and investigating environmental and community resources in the study area.  

In addition, the team will review collected data and consider options for the bridge.

According to project officials, several options will be considered for the U.S. 51/U.S. 60/U.S. 62 river crossing including: 

1.      Rehabilitation of the existing bridge

2.      Replacement of the bridge in its current location.

3.      Feasibility of a new bridge in a new location

4.     A no-build or do-nothing alternative

This long-term planning process will identify the preferred alternatives to be considered in the next phase of project development – Preliminary Engineering and Environmental Studies. 

Kentucky transportation officials emphasized that this is the start of an extended process and that no construction activities are planned at this time.

The project will engage the communities of Wickliffe and Cairo through public meetings that are expected to be scheduled in 2013. The study will be coordinated with local officials, public agencies, and representatives from interested groups. 

The bridge carries about 5,400 vehicles per day across the Ohio River at U.S. 51 Kentucky mile point 7.372 where it connects to the U.S. 60/U.S. 62 Mississippi River Bridge between Illinois and Missouri.

The bridge was constructed by the Cairo Bridge Commission and opened to traffic as a toll facility on Nov. 11, 1936. Tolls were removed 12 years later when the highway agencies of Kentucky and Illinois took over maintenance of the structure. 

The bridge is at Ohio River navigation mile point 980.4. 

A project website is under construction and will be reached via a link on KYTC’s District 1 site at http://transportation.ky.gov/district-1/.  

Once established, the website will focus on study updates, meeting information, and public documents.

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