With a recent trip to western Kentucky, I opted to meander along the Ohio River to visit a part of the state that I had neglected for my nearly 27 years of existence. This was only my second trip to the Owensboro region, and my first to the Jackson Purchase region of the state, and there were many impressive and historic spans to consider and photograph.
The first major crossing that I came across was the Lincoln Trail Bridge between Cannelton, Indiana and Hawesville, Kentucky, connecting to IN 237 and KY 69. The first crossing near this location was the Hawesville ferry, which was in operation from 1831 to the opening of the two-lane steel trussed through bridge on December 21, 1966. The Lincoln Trail Bridge was tolled until the 1990s.
Thankfully, the rust-colored span is slated for repainting in 2012.
Crossing between Paducah, Kentucky and Brookport, Illinois is the Brookport-Paducah Bridge that carries US 45 over the Ohio River. Opened to traffic on May 8, 1929, the 5,300-foot ten-span crossing was built by the Rouse Construction Company, the Union Bridge and Construction Company and the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company. The designs vary on the bridge, from three Warren pony trusses, to one Parker through truss, nine Warren through trusses and four deck trusses. The bridge is narrow – the deck width is less than 20 feet wide, and sharp bends in the spans make driving across it an adventure.
Below is a 20 minute exposure of the span, with the Ohio River at a slightly elevated level.
The Paducah Ohio River Bridge carries Interstate 24 over the Ohio River between Paducah, Kentucky and Metropolis, Illinois. Constructed in 1973, the four-lane, two-span tied arch bridge functionally replaced the narrow Brookport-Paducah Bridge as the through route between the two states. The southern arch span measures 730 feet in length, while the northern arch span measures 630 feet in length. The bridge also features 17 continuous stringer approach spans.
Further west, at Wickliffe, is the cantilevered Warren through truss over the Ohio River that carries US 51, US 60 and US 62. Designed by Modjeski and Masters and completed by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company and the Mount Vernon Bridge Company, the narrow two-lane route was completed in 1933. A toll was levied by the Cairo Bridge Commission until the construction bonds were paid off in 1948.
Cairo, Illinois is also served by the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge over the Ohio River, a major through line that is currently used by Canadian National Railway. It was the first railroad link completed between Chicago and New Orleans, and revolutionized rail travel along the Mississippi River.
The need for a railroad bridge in Cairo was great by the late 1800s, when as many as 500,000 railroad cars were being ferried across the Mississippi and Ohio River each year. Those shipments were valued at $60 million, the highest per capita in the nation. The Illinois Central (IC), incorporated in 1851, extended from Galena to Cairo, and connected major industrial and agricultural centers in Illinois. At Cairo, the IC connected to the rivers, taking advantage of the burgeoning steamboat traffic along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. At the time of its completion, the IC was the lognest single railroad operating in the United States at 700 miles in length.
The first bridge discussion came in January 1859 from James Clarke, IC Master of Transportation, who noted that the railroad’s natural connections were with the railroads leading to Mobile and New Orleans. But the passage of the Ohio River Bridges Act in 1872, heralded as a victory by steamboat operators, required more extensive planning, map, and profiles be developed for a crossing over the Ohio River than any other navigable waterway.
It was not until March 1887 that a site visit was made and the first proposal was evaluated. The proposed bridge site featured a river width of 4,000 feet. Two miles upriver, the width narrowed to around 3,000 feet, which raised the possibility of filling in with stone some of the shoreline to narrow the channel. But that idea was rejected, leading the engineers to design a 52 truss steel span bridge with a length of 10,560 feet, the longest of any metal bridge in the world. The total length, including trestles, was 20,461 feet, or 3.875 miles. The channel portion of the crossing consisted of nine pin-connected, Whipple through truss spans, two of which were 518.5 feet long and the other seven 400 feet long, and three 249 foot Pratt deck spans. The pin-connected Whipple trusses were also 18 inches longer than the 1877 Cincinnati Southern bridge as well. But the lengths of the Whipple trusses double panel diagonals led to less rigidity under load.
The contract with the War Department stipulated that work on the Cairo crossing be started before March 29, 1887, and pile driving for the Kentucky approach had already commenced when Morison began preparing construction plans for the main spans. The contract was awarded in May to Union Bridge Company for the superstructure.
By the end of August 1889, the steelworkers from Baird had completed the last through truss.
Shortly after 9 AM on October 29, the first train crossed the bridge from Illinois into Kentucky. Work still remained on the bridge, which included construction on the floor, painting and other minor details that continued until March 1, 1890. The total cost was $2,675,457.92, or just slightly more than $200,000 over the original estimate.
Construction began in 1949 on a replacement truss for the Ohio River crossing, utilizing many of the original bridge piers. Built while keeping the existing span in place, work on the through truss was completed in 1952.
Click through to the Cairo Ohio River Bridge (Illinois Central Railroad) for an exhaustive history of this historic bridge.