There are two significant bridges that span the majestic Ohio River connecting Portsmouth, Ohio, to Greenup County, Kentucky. The first one is the U.S. Grant Bridge, which is a cable-stayed suspension bridge. The second bridge is the Carl D. Perkins Memorial Bridge, which is a traditional cantilevered Warren through truss bridge.
The U.S. Grant Bridge, carrying US Route 23, was originally a wire suspension bridge designed by the engineering firm Robinson & Steinman in the early 20th century. It was the second suspension bridge in the United States to have a continuous stiffening truss and the first with rocker-type towers.
Construction of the new U.S. Grant Bridge began on May 5, 1926, immediately after a groundbreaking ceremony. The Dravo Contracting Company of Pittsburgh was responsible for building the bridge’s substructure and superstructure and for its operation after completion. The completed bridge opened for pedestrian traffic on August 30, 1927, and for light and heavy traffic on September 1 and September 5, respectively. Spanning approximately 1,400 feet, the bridge featured a main suspension span of 700 feet, two approach suspension spans of 350 feet, and plate girder spans. It was named after Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States and a Civil War general. The bridge served as an important connection for vehicles traveling between southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky, as well as Ohio’s first automobile bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Ironton.
In 1957, the U.S. Grant Bridge was sold to the Ohio Bridge Commission, and tolls were removed in 1974 when the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) acquired it. In 1978, a bridge inspection revealed significant deterioration, including frayed wires and hairline cracks in the cables. As a result, the bridge was closed to all but emergency vehicles and pedestrians. Eventually, the bridge had to be completely shut down on August 31. During the closure, emergency measures such as a National Guard helicopter and ferries were put in place to accommodate traffic, but they proved insufficient. The bridge underwent extensive repairs from 1978 to 1979, costing $8 million and involving the disassembly of trusses and the replacement of cables. It reopened to traffic on December 21, 1979, with a formal rededication ceremony on January 4, 1980.
In 1992, ODOT conducted a study to decide whether to renovate the existing bridge or build a new one, as it was nearing the end of its service life. The study concluded that further renovations would only extend its lifespan by 20 years. Consequently, a decision was made to construct a new bridge. In April 2001, the C.J. Mahan Company was awarded a $28.4 million contract for the construction of the new bridge. The old U.S. Grant Bridge was closed on June 30 and dismantled soon after. The new cable-stayed suspension bridge, designed by ODOT, opened for traffic on October 16, 2006, marking the state’s first design of its kind across the Ohio River.
Downstream is the Carl D. Perkins Bridge, which was built as the result of the U.S. Grant Bridge’s closure in 1978-79.
In August 1978, the Kentucky Department of Transportation (KYDOT) and ODOT initiated project planning for a new bridge. They evaluated fifteen options, including thirteen potential crossing sites, and selected two for further review:
- Alternative 4: This option proposed building a new bridge parallel to the U.S. Grant Bridge, slightly upstream. Initially, it would accommodate two or three lanes, which could be expanded to four lanes in the future.
- Alternative 7: This option involved constructing a two-lane bridge about 1.1 miles downstream from the U.S. Grant Bridge. It required widening KY Route 10 to four lanes and reconstructing the interchange between US Route 52 and OH Routes 73 and 104 in West Portsmouth. This alternative aimed to reduce truck traffic on the U.S. Grant Bridge, benefiting downtown Portsmouth and promoting economic development in underserved areas.
Alternative 4 faced opposition, and local leaders from Kentucky and Ohio favored Alternative 7 due to its potential for economic growth and diverting truck traffic from downtown. On September 25, 1980, KYDOT chose Alternative 7, despite its significantly higher cost of $155 million compared to the estimated $33 million for the parallel Grant Bridge site. The downtown Portsmouth site was deemed infeasible due to opposition from the city council, which had the authority to deny construction within city limits under Ohio’s home-rule law.
In October 1984, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $57.1 million grant to KYDOT for the downstream bridge construction. However, it was later discovered that the construction costs had been overestimated, and by mid-1985, the project was estimated to cost only $71 million.
The Traylor Brothers’ Evansville Marine Division completed the construction of the Carl D. Perkins Memorial Bridge. During the placement of the final sections of steel in September 1986, workers encountered an issue. Two temporary beams were found to be 18 inches longer than they should have been due to fabrication errors. To rectify this, multiple beams had to be removed, and the problematic sections were reworked and installed correctly later that month.
The construction of the new bridge required the completion of approximately two miles of a four-lane highway on KY Route 10, which would disturb talus deposits on the hillsides. The excavation was challenging and costly due to a sliding slope beneath the talus, complicating long-term maintenance.
The new Warren cantilever through truss bridge, named the Carl D. Perkins Bridge after Kentucky Congressman Carl D. Perkins, was opened to traffic on January 28, 1988.