Skip to content

Changes in Transportation in Western Kentucky

Kentucky Dam Expansion

The impoundment of the Tennessee River at Gilbertsville led to a significant change in the transportation landscape of western Kentucky. The groundwork that led to the construction of the Kentucky Dam began in June 1920, when Congress authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a ten-year survey of the Tennessee River valley. The Corps reported in 1928 and recommended a flood control, navigation, and hydroelectric dam at Aurora Landing in Marshall County. But after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was signed into law in May 1933, the dam location shifted to Gilbertsville.

No further work toward the facility’s construction was made because of a lack of funds, but after rains fell for 19 days in January 1937 leading to massive flooding and economic devastation along the Tennessee and Ohio rivers and their tributaries, Congress appropriated funds for the dam. Construction began in July 1938 and the new Kentucky Dam was completed in August 1944. Atop the dam was a bridge to carry the mainline of the Illinois Central Railroad.

US Route 62 was added in December 1950 as part of a project to reroute the highway in the region, which also included the completion of an adjoining bridge over the Cumberland River at Eureka in 1952. Prior to the construction of the Eureka Highway Bridge, US Route 62 was routed east of Paducah through Smithland and Kuttawa crossing over the Cumberland River on a private toll ferry at Iuka. The state had initially planned to construct a toll bridge but over objections from the Federal government, the new crossing was made toll-free. Upon its completion, US Route 62 was rerouted from its Smithland to Kuttawa alignment and onto a new two-lane route between Paducah and Kuttawa.

Throughout the 1970s, Interstate 24 was constructed across the Jackson Purchase region of the state which included the erection of the Luther Draffen Bridges, a pair of conventional steel arches, that was located just downstream of the dam. Unconventional was their construction: they were built off-site and lifted into place by hydraulics and were some of the heaviest structures to ever be lifted at that time.

More changes came to Kentucky Dam in the late 20th century. Owing to the undersized locks, river traffic congestion, and terrorism concerns, it was decided to construct a second, larger 110-foot by 1,200-foot lock and to build separate bridges for the railroad and highway away from the dam and over the Tennesse River. Construction of the massive $734 million project began in 1998 and the new Paducah & Lousiville Railway and highway crossings opened in 2009 at the cost of $97 million. Work is still ongoing to finish the new lock.

Leave a Reply