It’s easy to overlook something you drive over on your daily commute, but how many have actually admired the two bridges at Clay’s Ferry in central Kentucky?
The Clay’s Ferry Bridge traces its origins to 1792 when Valentine Stone established a ferry on the Kentucky River. General Green Clay acquired it in 1798. By 1871, after being managed by the Richmond & Lexington Turnpike Company, it was replaced with a toll bridge. The Clay’s Ferry Bridge Company oversaw it from 1906 until the Commonwealth of Kentucky bought it in 1929. However, its significance diminished after the completion of a new elevated high-level bridge in August 1946. The original crossing was later restored and serves as the centerpiece of a scenic byway through the Kentucky River gorge.
The Clay’s Ferry Interstate Bridge’s origins trace back to 1941 when plans for a high-altitude river crossing were revealed. This new construction aimed to replace the meandering roads and the narrow, single-lane Clay’s Ferry Bridge. Though work on the foundational elements began in October of that year, a steel shortage in May 1942, due to wartime redirections, halted progress on the main structure. It wasn’t until 1944 that steel was allocated for the bridge’s superstructure, with the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company handling its fabrication. The updated Clay’s Ferry Bridge was inaugurated on August 17, 1946, for US Route 25, later carrying US Route 421.
Fast forward to 1963, the construction of Interstate 75 in central Kentucky necessitated a companion bridge adjacent to the original. Years later, on January 3, 1994, a massive project was launched to transform the Clay’s Ferry Interstate Bridge. This entailed expanding it to six lanes, adding both external and internal shoulders, and renovating the superstructures of the 1946 and 1963 bridges. This undertaking was a segment of a more extensive effort to expand Interstate 75 to six lanes from Lexington to Berea, representing one of the state’s most ambitious infrastructural endeavors. The entire project was finalized by November 1998.