2013 Includes Progress for a Long Road Ahead for New Lakes Bridges

Jan 8, 2013

Rendering of new lakes bridges
Credit KYTC

In the 1800s, Eggner’s Ferry consisted of a small platform propelled by a blind mule hitched to a sweep pole. Now, in place of a ferry, a bridge stands, and it made headlines last year when a cargo ship crashed into it and collapsed one span. But, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet hopes to make the bridge into more than a cautionary tale. Casey Northcutt reports on the long process of constructing a new Eggner’s Ferry Bridge as well as a matching replacement for the Lawrence Memorial Bridge.

The Eggner’s Ferry and Lawrence Memorial Bridges in Land Between the Lakes used to be marvels. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Public Information officer Keith Todd says they cover difficult spans of river, which made them engineering achievements upon their completion in the 1930s. But, today, few marvel at them anymore.

“One of the terms you will see used very often is ‘functionally obsolete’, and what that means is that, if we were to build a new bridge there today, it would look very different than the bridges built back in the 1930s,” said Todd.

The bridges, he says, do not have modern safety features and although they carry close to 3000 vehicles per day, early 20th century engineers did not design them for the today’s automobiles. David Graham of Pascall Truck Lines, Inc., says the bridges are far too narrow. He has friends who adds 40 minutes onto their trips  to go around LBL  instead of across it just to avoid crossing the Eggner’s Ferry and Lawrence Memorial Bridges.

“It’s dangerous on there to meet a big truck if you’re in a small car. A lot of people are hesitant, if not totally afraid to cross those bridges,” Graham said.

Graham is the Chairman of the West Kentucky Twin Bridge Advocacy Committee. It’s a group of local judge-executives, businessmen, chamber of commerce members and others who work to ensure new bridges get built as soon as possible. He says the committee members place importance on the project because new, wider bridges could increase traffic flow through the area, which could result in an economic boost. So, committee members lobbied for it in state government. They wanted officials to keep project as a high priority

“We testified in front of the House Transportation Committee a couple of different times and worked with the governor’s office—both Governor Fletcher and Governor Beshear—to keep this project moving forward,” said Graham.

But, while committee members and officials have been discussing and planning this project for years, construction workers have not poured one slab of concrete. Bridges, Keith Todd says, sometimes take decades to complete.

“I don’t think most people have a good grasp on the amount of engineering work that’s required on a bridge of this size. We have been working pretty intently for about the last three to four years focusing in on some of the design challenges,” said Todd.

He says some of those challenges include bridging a lagoon to access a main construction site. That work is in the bidding process.

Official conversations on replacing the bridges have been going on since at least 2006. Organizers conceived of the twin bridges as a joint project and held a series of public meetings to collect input. They presented residents with approximately 50 design options, and with community help, narrowed the choices to about four or five.

Eventually, the cabinet chose to construct the bridges with a Basket-Handle Tied Arch design. It fit the crossings as well as the budget, and it could transform the bridges themselves into tourist attractions.

“This will be the only place in the world, so far as we know, where there will be two of these basket handle arch design bridges that will be in about eight or nine miles of each other,” said Todd.

In addition to new designs, the bridges will have four lanes each and modern safety features along with hiking and biking paths to help expand the current trails in Land Between the Lakes. They will also stand higher than the current bridges to allow some sail boats to pass underneath and hopefully avoid future elisions with cargo ships. The bridges will cost an estimated $165 million each.  

Todd won't give a time frame for completion for the bridges. But, in comparison after the cargo ship, "The Delta Mariner", struck a span of the bridge in January the government awarded a $7 million contract for a new span which was constructed and hoisted into place in less than five months. However, Todd says new projects could take a while.

“When you have a project of that size, there are just lots of opportunities for issues to come up that can essentially delay construction. For instance, on the US 60 Tennessee River Bridge at Ledbetter, we had 16 months of high water on the Tennessee River that delayed the construction of the main piers, which essentially put that bridge about two years behind schedule early on,” said Todd.

Nevertheless, Todd says the Transportation Cabinet has found the funding and the matching bridges will be constructed. Residents will see the first sign of new bridges when contractors begin work in 2013 to bridge the lagoon near Kentucky Lake. Once the lagoon bridge is complete work will begin on the new Eggners Ferry Bridge and about a year later, Todd says, the government will award contracts to begin work on the Lawrence Memorial bridge over Lake Barkley.