The Cairo Bridge carries US Routes 51, 60, and 62 over the Ohio River between Cairo, Illinois, and Wickliffe, Kentucky.
The Cairo Bridge, a cantilevered Warren through truss, was designed by Modjeski & Masters of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and constructed by the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company of Mt. Vernon, Ohio 1 between 1936-38. 2 It was the longest bridge in the state with a total length of 5,865 feet. 7
In 1976, officials from the Kentucky Department of Transportation unveiled plans to extensively rehabilitate the Cairo Bridge, which would include replacing the 1,1551-feet of the deck and repairing another 4,314 feet of the deck. 3 It would also involve widening the roadway width from 20 feet to 22 feet, 6 inches. The state proposed four alternatives for the $3.7 million project 4 which included: 3
- Closing the bridge to all traffic for four to six months;
- Closing the bridge to all traffic except for in the morning or afternoon to allow people to cross to go to work, which would result in repairs taking eight to 10 months;
- Closing only one lane of the bridge, which would result in repairs taking 12 to 14 months; and
- Periodically closing the bridge for two months at a time and reopening for several weeks, which would result in repairs taking 18 to 20 months.
It was ultimately decided to close one lane of the bridge to reduce disruptions to fall grain harvests and motorists. 4 Work began in July 1977 5 and was originally scheduled for completion in 1978 but a decision to halt construction two months early in 1977 delayed completion until October 1979. 6 The bridge deck was rehabilitated again in 1999. 7
A study to determine whether the Cairo Bridge should be rehabilitated or replaced was completed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) in 2013. 2 It concluded that the crossing should be replaced as it is functionally obsolete because of its substandard geometric features and narrow roadway width, and structurally deficient because the original design load for the bridge was less than the current design standards and likely to collapse in an earthquake as it was within the New Madrid Seismic Zone. An inspection in 2012 and a load rating analysis in 2013 gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 39.8 on a 100-point scale. Without any structural improvements, the bridge would close to truck traffic in 2025 and to all traffic by 2030. 2
The study recommended a new bridge with 900-foot horizontal clearance over the Ohio River navigational channel and a 113-foot vertical clearance be constructed. 2 It was projected that such a which would cost between $180 million and $210 million.
Part of the study included determining which corridor would serve as the best route over the Ohio River. 7 Out of eight alternatives originally considered, four were moved forward for additional consideration in January 2014. All were alternatives located just north of the existing Cairo Bridge. In October 2021, it was determined that Alternate 2 would move forward as the preferred alignment alternative because of overwhelming public and industry support and support from the project team. The new bridge will include two lanes of traffic with 12-foot driving lanes and eight-foot shoulders.
- State: Illinois, Kentucky
- Route: US Routes 51, 60 and 62
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 5,863 feet
- Main Span Length: 800 feet
- Roadway Width: 20 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 19.6 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. US 51 OHIO RIVER BRIDGE PROJECT KYTC Item No. 1-100.00 & 1-1140.00 Wickliffe, KY to Cairo, IL. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- Bartleman, Bill. “Residents of 3 states air bridge-closing opposition.” Paducah Sun, 25 Jun. 1976, pp. 1A-2A.
- “Roadbuilding at record pace in west Kentucky.” Paducah Sun, 18 Sept. 1977, p. D1.
- Miller, Johnny. “Weather provides respite in grain transport flap.” Paducah Sun, 26 Aug. 1977, p. 3A.
- Miller, Johnny. “Great River Road.” Paducah Sun, 15 Apr. 1979, p. C1.
- Kuntz, Chris. “US 51 Bridge Online Public Meeting.” Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, 30 Oct. 2021.