The Clay’s Ferry Interstate Bridge carries Interstate 75 and US Routes 25 and 421 over the Kentucky River between Fayette and Madison counties in Kentucky.
In 1792, Valentine Stone obtained permission from Madison County to run a ferry across the Kentucky River, connecting Fayette and Madison counties. 1 He later sold this operation to General Green Clay in 1798.
By 1865, a descendant of Clay, Brutus J. Clay, along with R.C. Rogers, sold the ferry to the Richmond & Lexington Turnpike Company. 1 This company operated the ferry until 1871, when they built a toll bridge. In 1897, the Fayette and Madison county governments bought the Turnpike, excluding the bridge. The company continued to manage the bridge until 1906. That year, W.S. Moberly, James Erskine, and Thomas J. Smith bought it for $4,755 in a public auction.
These three men formed the Clays Ferry Bridge Company and ran the toll bridge until April 1, 1929, when the Commonwealth of Kentucky bought it for $200,000. 1 Tolls were discontinued on December 24, 1930.
On February 6, 1941, 13 under the guidance of Bridge Engineer H. R. Creal, plans were unveiled for a high-level bridge over the Kentucky River valley to replace the existing Clay’s Ferry Bridge. 12 On August 23, the lowest construction bids for a high-level bridge over the Kentucky River at Clay’s Ferry were announced, amounting to $935,279. 9 This bridge, vital for military transportation, aimed to replace the winding roads and the single-lane Clay’s Ferry Bridge.
The Mt. Vernon Bridge Company from Mt. Vernon, Ohio, provided the lowest bid of $589,432 for the bridge’s steel superstructure. 9 Meanwhile, the Massman Construction Company from Kansas City, Missouri, quoted the lowest for the substructure at $345,847. Mt. Vernon’s proposal included concrete rails on the road deck, but changing to steel rails would increase the cost by $113,888. Bethlehem Steel Company was another firm that submitted an estimate for the superstructure’s erection. In October, the superstructure bid was revised and re-awarded to the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company at a cost of $464,092. 10
Approval for the construction of the new Clay’s Ferry Bridge was granted by the Secretary of War on September 12. 14 Work began on the substructure on October 1. 17
However, in May 1942, construction of the superstructure was postponed indefinitely due to a shortage of plate steel, which was redirected for wartime purposes. 8 11 Nonetheless, work progressed on the concrete piers and other foundational elements of the bridge, 11 which were completed on January 7, 1943. 14
In March 1944, the War Production Board set aside steel for the Clay’s Ferry Bridge for the contractor’s use during the year’s first six months. 14 By May, the contractor had acquired the steel and had it processed at their facilities in Mt. Vernon. Yet, due to workforce limitations, the steel installation moved at a slow pace. 13 In September, only 20 employees from the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company were actively working on the bridge. However, by November 8, the steel installation was finalized. 15
Following that, the R. R. Dawson Company of Bloomfield took over to work on concrete components. 15 This included pouring concrete abutments and a pier on the Madison County side, constructing five concrete approach spans, and laying slabs and handrails for the roadway. While work was slated to commence on November 15, cold temperatures pushed the start date to the following spring.
On August 17, 1946, the new Clay’s Ferry Bridge was officially opened. 16 At the dedication ceremony, an estimated crowd of 1,200 people gathered near the speakers’ platform, while another 2,000 attendees chose to stay in their cars along the Fayette County approach to the bridge. The highlight of the event was the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the bridge’s center. The honors were done by Governor Wimeon Willis, Highway Commissioner J. Stephen Watkins, and Leonard B. Shouse, Sr., a former president of the Bluegrass Automobile Club and a passionate advocate for better roads.
The new bridge ultimately cost $1.4 million to construct. 8 16 Upon completion, it ranked as the seventh-highest bridge in the nation. 1 The bridge comprised a 26-foot-wide driving surface, flanked by two sidewalks each spanning three feet. 12 The bridge was constructed using 4.416 million pounds of structural steel, 1.18 million pounds of reinforcing steel, and 12,400 yards of concrete.
In 1951, the US Route 421 designation was added to the bridge when the route extended from Bristol, Tennessee to Bedford, Kentucky. 2 By 1963, with the construction of Interstate 75 in central Kentucky, a second bridge was built next to the original. 2 4
On January 3, 1994, construction started to expand the Clay’s Ferry Interstate Bridge to six lanes, adding both outer and inner shoulders. 3 This was part of a broader initiative to widen Interstate 75 to six lanes between Lexington and Berea. Led by C.J. Mahan from Grove City, Ohio, the project had an estimated cost of $32 million. 3 4 It was the most significant project the state had ever embarked on. 4
The project’s specifics included building new 175-foot piers to accommodate two additional lanes and inner shoulders between the existing northbound and southbound lanes. 3 4 It also involved replacing the older structures from 1946 and 1963. Additionally, rubberized bearings were added to the supports, enhancing the bridge’s stability against potential earthquakes. 4
On February 29, 1996, at 3 PM, a crane accident occurred at the Clay’s Ferry Interstate Bridge construction site. 5 A 145-ton crane, while attempting to lift a 17-ton steel beam, leaned forward at a dangerous 30-degree angle, almost tipping off the edge of the 245-foot-tall bridge. Fearing the crane might fall into the river due to vibrations, traffic engineers halted all bridge traffic until 11:15 PM.
Another crane was brought in to retrieve the steel beam, stabilizing the tilting crane back to its upright position. 5 Quick thinking by the operator led him to drop the beam onto the river bank below, preventing it from falling off the bridge. The beam was the only item damaged in the incident.
In the summer of 1998, crews finished painting the bridge. 6 By November, the bridge was open to accommodate six lanes of traffic. 7
- State: Kentucky
- Route: Interstate 75, US Route 25, US Route 421
- Type: Warren Deck Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,714'
- Main Span Length: 448'
- Deck Width: 119'
- Roadway Width: 125'
- Total Height: 245.5'
- Navigational Clearance: 175.3'
- “Clay’s Ferry Bridge seventh highest when built.” Kentucky Post 23 Aug. 2004. 26 Nov. 2007: 7K.
- Sanderson, Dale. “End of US Highway 421.” US Ends. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
- Muhs, Angie. “Beam work set to start soon on Clays Ferry Bridge.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 29 Dec. 1994, pp. B1-B4.
- Jasmin, Ernest. “Clays Ferry Bridge expansion under way.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 3 Jan. 1994, pp. B1-B3.
- “Teetering crane forces road’s closing.” Messenger, 2 Mar. 1996, p. 3.
- Edelen, Sheryl. “I-75 Clays Ferry Bridge project expected to end this summer.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 15 Apr. 1998, pp. B1-B4.
- “Lane widening work on I-75 almost complete.” Messenger-Inquirer, 24 Nov. 1998, p. 2C.
- “Clays Ferry bridge.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 22 Sept. 1999, p. 5.
- “Clay’s Ferry Bridge Contracts Mayt Be Let By State This Week.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 24 Aug. 1941, p. 19.
- “Work Expected to Start Soon on New Bridge at Clays Ferry.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 18 Oct. 1941, p. 1.
- “Lack of Steel May Hold Up River Bridge.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 12 May 1942, p. 1.
- Trout, Allan M. “Towering Bridge At Clay’s Ferry Expected to be Ready In Year.” Courier-Journal, 2 Aug. 1941, p. A2.
- “Construction on New Clays Ferry Bridge Progressing Rapidly.” Lexington Herald, 17 Sept. 1944, p. 10.
- “Work on Superstructure of Bridge at Clays Ferry is Scheduled in May.” Lexington Herald, 9 Mar. 1944, p. 1.
- “Final Phase of Construction Begun on Clays Ferry Bridge.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 28 Nov. 1945, p. 9.
- Reister, Joe. “Clays Ferry Bridge Officially Opened.” Courier-Journal, 18 Aug. 1946, p. 16.
- “New Clays Ferry Bridge Nears Completion.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 11 Aug. 1946, p. 1.