The Ironton-Russell Bridge crosses the Ohio River between Ironton, Ohio and Russell, Kentucky. The original circa 1922 cantilevered truss crossing has been replaced with a cable-stayed suspension bridge that opened on November 23, 2016. It features the longest main span for a bridge, at 900 feet, in the state of Ohio.
Constructed by the Ironton-Russell Bridge Company, the Ironton-Russell Bridge was opened in 1922 as the first highway crossing over the Ohio River between Parkersburg, West Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio. 11 The company levied a toll for both motorists and pedestrians.
The State of Ohio Bridge Commission purchased the bridge for $1.35 million in 1963 and maintained the tolls until the Commission was taken over by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). ODOT removed the tolls shortly thereafter.
By the 1990’s, the Ironton-Russell Bridge was showing its age. It bore high maintenance costs and was functionally obsolete. It had ten-foot travel lanes, two 90-degree curves and a metal grate driving deck. 11
In 1991, a weight limit was placed on the bridge in an effort to extend the life of the crossing. 25
Over 11,000 vehicles drove across the bridge daily by 1999. 6 Strain gauges on 36 steel members were installed in October to assist in determining if the weight limit should be lowered. 9 The monitoring, conducted by the University of Cincinnati Infrastructure Institute, continued into the next year. After the study was concluded and the data compiled, the weight limit on the bridge was lowered from 40 tons to 13 to 26 tons, depending on the number of axles on the vehicle, to reduce stress and fatigue on the bridge. 12
The crossing underwent $1 million in structural repairs in mid-2001, which required the reinforcement of bridge joints with metal plates and rods due to corrosion. 16 The bridge deck was further repaired in 2002. 18
ODOT announced on January 17, 2002 that the Ironton-Russell Bridge would close when air temperatures lowered to five degrees below zero fahrenheit. Steel on the bridge became more brittle and susceptible to stress and cracking at those extreme temperatures. 17 The width limit of the bridge was reduced to 7.6-feet on May 23, 2008, although buses and emergency vehicles were declared exempt. 25
In mid-2008, a $1.1 million bridge preservation project was undertaken that included the replacement of half of the metal grate driving surface, the retrofitting of damaged bearings and connections, debris removal, and various other repairs. 4
In early 1999, environmental studies were performed on a then-proposed $33 million replacement Ironton-Russell Bridge. 6 The Ohio State Controlling Board authorized ODOT to award a $1.1 million contract to Michael Baker Jr., Inc. to conduct necessary studies on a proposed bridge location. Construction was proposed to begin in 2003 with the bridge opening in 2006.
Four corridors were selected but were rejected by the Ironton City Council on September 16, 1999.7 The city asked ODOT to build a new two-lane bridge over the Ohio River immediately adjacent to the existing Ironton-Russell Bridge.15 There was much opposition to an alignment adjacent to the existing bridge, especially from the city of Russell, who had hoped for an upstream crossing that would take out no residences within its city limits.10
Two additional corridors were later added, as well as two existing bridge rehabilitation options.13 14 ODOT had hoped to have a preferred alignment chosen by early 2000.8
Detailed cost estimates, released for a new Ironton-Russell Bridge on July 5, 2000, ranged from $42 million to $61 million. 12 It was a significant increase from $33 million to $35 million from earlier figures due to material cost increases.
The six proposed alignments for the new Ironton-Russell Bridge were down to just two on August 28: 13
- Alternate Alignment B, connecting Willow Alley in Russell to Second and Adams streets in Ironton, and
- Alignment BC-1, connecting US 23 and KY 244 in Russell to Second and Adams streets in Ironton.
The preliminary design called for two 12-foot lanes, two ten-foot shoulders, a bicycle path and sidewalk, with a 500-feet central tower. 2
A draft environmental impact statement was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in June 2002. 18 The final environmental impact statement was cleared by the FHWA in January 2003. Preliminary design and right-of-way work began in April. 21
Alignment BC-1 was chosen in April 2005. 23 At this point, estimated construction costs of the new Ironton-Russell Bridge had grown to $73 million. 24 The preliminary design was scrapped in January 2006 when the lowest of three bids submitted for construction came in just under $110 million. 1 Material cost inflation, attributed to Hurricane Katrina, was to blame for the high bids.
The Ironton-Russell Bridge replacement project languished. In 2012, a new design by the primary contractor, Brayman Construction Corporation, URS, Finley Engineering Group, and VSL proposed a number of modifications to the project to reduce costs. 26 The firms proposed reducing the bridge width from 48 feet to 32 feet, 2 and using two shorter 315-foot towers instead of one. The new 2,616-foot crossing would still feature a 900-foot main span and two 370-foot auxiliary spans.
The firms also proposed using precast stay anchor blocks, the first of its type in the nation, to eliminate the need for a temporary stay anchorage. 26 The companies also wanted to construct the auxiliary spans in place using falsework, designed to require the use of one traveler for both the Kentucky and Ohio approaches. The groups also identified elements that could be precast rather than poured-in-place, expediting construction and lowering costs. In one instance, precast tubs were used for footings at piers three and four, removing the need for pile coffer cells.
The changes in the bridge design allowed the project cost to be estimated at $81.2 million, which included $79.3 in construction bonds and $1.4 million in federal funds. 26
Construction on the new Ironton-Russell Bridge began on March 5, 2012 with a ceremonial groundbreaking held on May 3. 28 29 The new crossing, named after Oakley Clark Collins, opened on November 23, 2016 at a cost of $81.4 million. 29 30 A ceremony to commemorate the bridge opening was held at 11 am in downtown Ironton, followed by a parade across the new and old bridges. 30
The last motorists to cross the old Ironton-Russell Bridge were Verna Mae Sloan, 102, an Ironton native, and Della Burton, 102, a Russell native. 29 Demolition, by cranes, began in late-January 2017. 31