Authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938 and the River Harbor Act of 1946 as part of a comprehensive plan to develop the Cumberland River basin, Wolf Creek Dam was constructed between 1941 and 1951 in Russell County, Kentucky. The damming of the Cumberland River formed Lake Cumberland and required the construction of seven new highway and railway bridges across the impoundment.
One of those bridges carries KY Route 90 over the South Fork Cumberland River in Burnside. The first fixed crossing over the river came in 1914 with a privately owned crossing. As part of the creation of Cumberland Lake, the bridge was replaced with a 1,105-foot-long deck truss structure. After the gates on the new Wolf Creek Dam were closed in December 1950, it was projected that it would take two years for the 101-mile-long lake to fill, but the waters rose more quickly than expected before the bridges were ready for motorists. A temporary ferry was put into operation until the new Burnside Bridge was formally dedicated on March 31, 1951.
The crossing was funded through the Murphy Toll Bridge Act, legislation that was passed in 1928 that allowed the State Department of Highways to erect highway bridges across the state and allowed the state to sell construction bonds that would be paid back by tolls.
Construction started in 2003 on a four-lane replacement of the aging circa 1951 crossing. A Warren through truss design utilizing Corten weathering steel was fully completed in June 2006.
Nearby is a bridge for US Route 27 over the North Fork Cumberland River. The original crossing was completed in 1931 and was considered the “last link” in the completion of a modern US Route 27 (Cincinnati-Lookout Mountain Airline) as it removed the only ferry remaining on the route between Cincinnati and Chattanooga. The tolled span was the highest crossing in the state at 108 feet from the low water mark on the river.
As part of the project, the circa 1931 bridge and tunnel were replaced with a 1,130-foot-long deck truss structure in 1951. Construction started in 1999 on a four-lane replacement which was completed in 2002.
Also completed was an adjoining tunnel 182-feet in length, or nearly double the length of the tunnel along US Route 68 in Brooklyn, at the cost of $40,000.
Finally, work began in the late 1940s to reroute the Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP) in the vicinity of Burnside to build a higher-elevation bridge over the North Fork Cumberland River and to eliminate Tunnel Nos. 3 and 4. The railroad through the area had been completed in 1879 and included numerous sharp curves, steep grades, and many, many tunnels.
The new bridge over Lake Cumberland opened on August 8, 1950.