The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is closing the US 51 Ohio River "Cairo" Bridge at two locations tonight due to high water predictions.
The closure may last for more than a week and cause lengthy detours for many motorists.
Approximately 5,500 vehicles cross the Cairo Bridge each day, of which 35 percent is interstate truck traffic moving goods between Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri.
KYTC engineers have been evaluating river level predictions from the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which show that water levels are rising more rapidly than earlier estimated.
As a result, both the US 51 Ohio River "Cairo" Bridge and US 51 South of Wickliffe near the Ballard-Carlisle County line will close at 12:oo AM.
"Working with Kentucky emergency management agencies and our neighbors in Illinois, US 51 will close to all traffic at midnight to allow Kentucky Highway Department personnel to properly barricade the roadway," said KYTC Spokesman Keith Todd. "We are anticipating US 51 will be closed at these two sites for at least a week, based on the latest forecast."
Access to the bridge was also closed during the Great Flood of 2011. Todd says during that time officials fought an ongoing battle with truckers and motorists who kept moving traffic barricades creating a major safety issue. He says crews are taking precautions during this closure and drivers who move the barricades may face citations.
"We're placing millings around the barricades to keep them from being moved," said Todd. "We have several locations where we're doing this, including along US 51. People who move barricades to attempt to drive through floodwaters endanger themselves. If they move 'Road Closed' signs out of the roadway, they also endanger those who follow who may not be aware of the flood hazard ahead. This is a safety issue for emergency responders who may be called to rescue stranded drivers from the floodwaters. While our police agency partners will continue to write citations to those who move signs, we're being pro-active to help reduce the police manpower required to enforce the closure."
Permanent barricades will also be used on KY 131 at the McCracken-Graves County Line and on KY 1255/Bonds Road in McCracken County.
KYTC advises motorists to plan ahead and start considering alternate travel routes. Suggested routes include a 90-minute detour via the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge between Paducah, KY and Metropolis, IL. However, several of the alternate routes through Illinois also face the potential to close due to flooding.
Commuters should consider staying with friends or family closer to their work site and employers are encouraged to consider providing other arrangements to assist workers facing the extended 90-minute detour.
Water bodies across the region are expected to rise to dangerous levels following several bouts of heavy rain.
The National Weather Service says the Ohio River at Paducah is (as of noon Wed) at 45.3 ft. which categorizes “moderate flooding.” But the River is forecast to reach as high as 47 to 49 ft. next Tuesday, Jan 5.
In anticipation, the city began in installing floodgates yesterday mitigate overflow.
“A forecast of 49 feet triggers us to take additional action," said City Engineer and Public Works Director Rick Murphy in a release. "We have been monitoring forecasts and maintaining the pump stations. Now we are going to initiate floodgate installation. It takes some preparation time to get city crews scheduled and the equipment in place. Those preparations will start now so that crews can be ready to install floodgates late this week or weekend in anticipation of Tuesday’s river stage.”
Crews will begin preparing the flood wall downtown for gate installation over the next few days in order for the gates to be installed Saturday. Only gates with a crest in affected neighborhoods will be installed. The first 20 gates can be installed within 12 hours.
Elsewhere on the Ohio, U.S. Corp of Engineers Nashville District’s Charlotte Stenger says if the Ohio crests Thursday, the corps may have to close the now-open gates Saturday to dam water back to Lake Barkley, which will cause lake levels to rise considerably.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet reports that many roadways are still closed due to high water from flooded creeks and streams.