Ironton-Russell Bridge

The Ironton-Russell Bridge connects Ironton, Ohio to Russell, Kentucky, and was designed and contracted by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsion for $640,000.26 The substructure was built by the Dravo Construction Company. It was the first time that hydraulic jacks were used instead of wedges for this type of cantilever bridge construction. The new cantilevered camelback Pratt through truss was dedicated at a ceremony attended by over 10,000 on April 21, 1922 26 and was the the first highway bridge along the Ohio River between Parkersburg and Cincinnati.11

The Ironton-Russell Bridge opened in 1922 as the first highway bridge along the Ohio River between Parkersburg and Cincinnati.11 The Ironton-Russell Bridge Company owned the structure and operated it as a tolled facility until 1963, when the State Bridge Commission of Ohio acquired it for $1.3 million.26 Tolls were maintained until the Commission was forced out of business. The Ohio Department of Transportation took over the bridge’s operations and subsequently removed its tolls.

The crossing was rehabilitated from 1952-1962 and again in 1983.26

By the late 1990s, the crossing was declared structurally obsolete due to its high maintenance costs and deficient operating characteristics, such as its two narrow 10-foot travel lanes, two 90-degree curves and a metal grade driving surface.11 By 1999, 11,250 vehicles used the bridge daily.6 In October, strain gauges were installed on the span to help determine if the weight limit should be lowered.9 The monitoring, conducted by the University of Cincinnati Infrastructure Institute, was conducted on 36 different steel sections and continued until 2000. As a result, the weight limit was reduced from 40 tons to 13 to 26 tons, depending on the number of axles on the truck.12

In the summer of 2001, the bridge underwent $1 million in repairs.16 Various bridge joints were reinforced with metal plates and rods due to years of salt, rust and age that had taken its toll. The bridge deck was further repaired in 2002.18 On January 17, 2002, the Ohio Department of Transportation announced that the Ironton-Russell Bridge would close whenever temperatures depressed to five degrees below zero, when the span is more brittle and more susceptible to stress and cracking.17

On May 18, 2004, six members of the Ohio Division of Wildlife were inspecting the Ironton-Russell Bridge to identify two potential peregrine falcon chicks nesting on a bridge pier.22 But when the wildlife officials were granted a closer look at the nest, they found four peregrine falcon chicks instead. The birds, one of the fastest animals on earth with a recorded top speed of 242 miles per hour, have been known to swoop down and peck at the heads of unsuspecting pedestrians on the bridge. As a result of the birds and their endangered status, the pedestrian walkway was closed.

On May 23, 2008, the width limit of the bridge was reduced to 7.6 ft., although buses and emergency vehicles were declared exempt.25 The limit was in response to a failed weight limit policy that was instituted in 1991 in an effort to extend the life of the span, but it became difficult for police officers to enforce the limits without scales.


In early 1999, environmental studies were preformed on a proposed $33 million replacement span for the then 77-year-old Ironton-Russell Bridge.6 The Ohio State Controlling Board authorized the Ohio Department of Transportation’s approval to award a $1.1 million contract to Michael Baker Jr., Inc. to start conducting the studies necessary before a site could be selected. Construction at that point was scheduled to begin in 2003 and be complete by 2006, with sites ranging from Mastin and Etna streets in Ironton.

On September 16, 1999, the Ironton City Council voted 7-0 to object to four corridors that were under consideration for the new bridge.7 They agreed to ask the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to build a new two-lane span over the Ohio River immediately adjacent to the existing span, and to keep the existing bridge open during construction. It was rescinded in May 24, 2001.15 The new bridge corridor was expanded from Railroad Street to Mastin Avenue, 1,000-foot wide. 7 Two additional corridors were later added, as well as two bridge rehabilitation options.13 14 ODOT was also requesting a selected corridor by the end of the year so that a preferred alignment could be chosen in the spring of 2000.8

There was much opposition to the alignments. While the city of Russell generally agreed on the more upstream bridge proposals that would take out no property in the densely-populated city, the city Ironton preferred an alignment close to the existing span to aid downtown merchants, although it would consume more property in Russell.10

On July 5, 2000, detailed cost estimates were released for the new span.12 The earlier cost estimates were between $33 and $35 million, but had risen to $42 to $61 million due to construction material cost inflation. While the state had $35 million in funding secured for the new bridge, it had a shortfall in funding and had to seek additional discretionary funds from the federal government. The bridge was being funded 20% by the state of Ohio and 80% by the federal government.

On August 28, the six original options for the new span were narrowed to two: Alternative Alignment B, which connects Willow Alley in Russell to Second Street and Adams Street in Ironton, and Alternative BC-1, which connects Kentucky Route 244 at U.S. Route 23 in Russell to Second Street at Adams Street in Ironton.13 By October, the construction start date had been pushed back to October.14

In June 2002, a draft environmental impact statement was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).18 $10 million in additional funding was also secured for the span, bringing the total secured to $45 million. One year later in January, the final environmental impact statement was approved by the FHWA.20 In April, the FWHA stated that the new bridge project complied with all the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, and that ODOT now had the necessary environmental clearance to proceed with preliminary design and right-of-way work for the new Ironton-Russell Bridge.21

In April of 2005, it was announced that bids for construction of the new span could be let by fall, and that construction could begin by early 2006.23 The costs of the crossing had risen to $73 million.24 The new span would connect Ironton, Ohio at Second and Jefferson Streets, and with Russell, Kentucky at U.S. Route 23 and Belfont Street (Kentucky Route 244). The design included two 12-foot-wide lanes for vehicular traffic, two 10-foot-wide shoulders, and a path for bicyclists and pedestrians and a 500-foot tower.2

In January 2006, plans to replace the aging 84-year-old bridge came to a halt, when the lowest of three bids submitted was just under $110 million, or more than $10 million higher than the 2005 cost estimates.1 The original cost 2005 cost estimates were 30% higher than the original cost estimate.2 To reduce costs on the new span, a preliminary design plan was started. In the plan, the bridge width was reduced from 48 feet to 32 feet 1 by shrinking the shoulder width to just 4-feet,2 and the inclusion of two shorter towers instead of one.

Material cost inflation, especially post-Hurricane Katrina, were to blame for the higher cost estimates. The redesign reduced the amount of concrete and steel required.2

The Ohio Department of Transportation hired a consultant in late 2006 for the redesign, with a timetable of two years for design completion.2 Then design would then need to be approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would add at least six months to one year to the timeline.2 Under the revised scenario, construction of the new bridge could began in 2010 or 2011 and take three construction seasons to complete,2 but $33 million set aside for the project was diverted to other construction projects, leaving insufficient money for even a pared-down design.5 At the earliest, the bridge could be rebid in 2013 and be complete in 2017.

Due to the delay in the new bridge construction project, the Ohio Department of Transportation proposed a rehabilitation project for the Ironton-Russell Bridge.3 In mid-August 2006, the state of Ohio approved $1.56 million in funding. The project scope included the replacement of the bridge’s steel grid floor, the retrofit of damaged bearings and connections, debris removal, replacement of damaged rails, and other various repairs. Work was slated to begin in September 2007 and be complete within fifteen months.4 Work did not begin until summer 2008, when the $1.1 million preservation project began with a lower cost.

In May 2008, the Ohio Department of Transportation stated that the final bridge design could be complete by summer 2009, with construction beginning in 2012.25 The projected cost of the bridge would be just shy of $90 million.

  • Gallery
  • Statistics
  • Sources
  • Crosses: Ohio River
  • Bridge Type: Cantilevered camelback Pratt through truss
  1. “Cutting the cost.” Ashland Daily Independent, July 7, 2006. August 24, 2007 Article.
  2. Hart, Kenneth. “Ironton-Russell Bridge.” Ashland Daily Independent, July 6, 2006. August 24, 2007 Article.
  3. Hart, Kenneth. “Bridge rehab funding approved.” Ashland Daily Independent, August 20, 2006. August 24, 2007 Article.
  4. “Spring inspections bring fall rehabilitation.” Ashland Daily Independent, February 28, 2007. August 24, 2007 Article.
  5. James, Mike. “Ironton-Russell bridge still on back burner.” Ashland Daily Independent, March 20, 2007. August 24, 2007 Article.
  6. Malloy, David E. “Study begins in effort to build bridge.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 27 Jan. 1999.
  7. Malloy, David E. “Ironton council says `no’ to bridge closure.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 10 Sept. 1999.
  8. Malloy, David E. “Official urges end.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 18 Sept. 1999.
  9. Malloy, David E. “Weight limits on bridge to be tested.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 26 Oct. 1999.
  10. Malloy, David E. “Ohio wants more bridge studies.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 23 Nov. 1999.
  11. Ross, Jim. “Ironton-Russell Bridge opened in 1922.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 22 Dec. 1999.
  12. Malloy, David E. “Ironton bridge estimate goes up.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 6 July 2000.
  13. Redekopp, Christina. “Ironton-Russell bridge proposals narrowed to two.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 6 July 2000.
  14. Malloy, David E. “Two Ironton bridge sites proposed.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 25 Oct. 2000.
  15. Malloy, David E. “Ironton rescinds action on bridge.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 25 May 2001.
  16. Malloy, David E. “Ironton-Russell bridge repairs could end by winter.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 1 July 2001.
  17. Malloy, David E. “Bridge to be closed in harsh weather.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 18 Jan. 2002.
  18. Malloy, David E. “Ironton-Russell bridge to be repaired.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 7 June 2002.
  19. Malloy, David E. “Ironton bridge project still needs funds.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 19 June 2002.
  20. Malloy, David E. “Impact study for new bridge completed.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 27 Jan. 2003.
  21. Malloy, David E. “Feds approve Ironton bridge.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 12 April 2003.
  22. Malloy, David E. “Falcons take flight.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 19 May 2004.
  23. Malloy, David E. “Bridge work may be bid on in fall.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 15 April 2005.
  24. “Ironton-Russell Bridge is long past its prime.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 19 April 2005.
  25. Shaffer, Mark. “Bridge to have periodic closures.” Ironton Tribune 24 May 2008. 13 Feb. 2009 Article.
  26. Proposed plaque.

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