The Crossings at Paducah

    Paducah Bridge

    For decades, the only way to cross the Ohio River between Paducah, Kentucky, and Illinois was the narrow Brookport-Paducah Bridge. It is ceremoniously named after Irvin S. Cobb, a famous author from Paducah. Carrying US Route 45, the two-lane structure was completed in 1929 and consisted of three Warren pony trusses, one Parker through truss, nine Warren through trusses, and four deck trusses.

    The bridge often makes the rounds on social media and YouTube for its narrowness. Its unforgiving width of under 20 feet and its steel grid deck that equally grips and sways your tires between the lines and barriers makes for a white nuckled drive for many motorists.

    Brookport-Paducah Bridge

    In 1974, the Paducah Bridge carrying Interstate 24 over the Ohio River opened to traffic, providing much relief for the aging Paducah-Brookport Bridge which was being overburdened with heavy truck traffic that caused the bridge deck to deteriorate rapidly. The old span was closed to traffic between August 1975 and late 1976 so that the floor beams and driving deck could be replaced mostly with a steel grid deck.

    But the new Paducah Bridge was not without its issues caused by defective welding. Before it even opened to motorists, cracks were identified in hanger bars that connected steel cables to the top of the arch. They were replaced with hanger bars that were bolted in place. In 1977, cracks were discovered in force bars under the bridge deck. They were repaired by bolting reinforcements atop the cracks. In 1979, 119 cracks were discovered during a routine inspection in welds in the tie girders, or the main supports of the arches over the river channel which required the interstate crossing to be closed to traffic for two years. And in 1984, additional cracks were discovered during a routine inspection in at least ten floor beams near porthole openings. The cracks were repaired by bolting plates around the openings to remove stress from the area and work was completed within a week.

    In short, cost-cutting measures that allowed the superstructure contractor to win the $11.5 million low bid construction contract came back to haunt the state over the ensuing decades as it had to shell out over $5 million in repairs. In all of the repairs, the defective welds were fixed with hardier (and more expensive) plates and bolts.

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