The U.S. Grant Bridge carries US Route 23 over the Ohio River between Portsmouth, Ohio and Greenup County, Kentucky.
In January 1924, a small group of road advocates from Kentucky gathered at the South Portsmouth school to discuss the possibility of building a bridge over the Ohio River. 6 The bridge would connect Fullerton and South Portsmouth in Kentucky to Portsmouth, Ohio. After several discussions, a delegation was sent to Portsmouth to seek support from the fiscal court for the project. In March and April, both the state of Kentucky and Greenup County agreed to construct a road from Greenup to the Lewis County line, located two miles west of South Portsmouth.
In May, a committee of 15 individuals was chosen to meet at Henry Holly’s home in Fullerton. 6 Their purpose was to develop plans for building the bridge. During this meeting, 18 people subscribed a total of $48,000 worth of stock in the project. Soon after, a company was officially incorporated. In January 1925, Congress granted permission for the construction of the bridge across the Ohio River, starting from Chillicothe Street in Portsmouth and ending at the old Grant Tanner lot in Fullerton.
At the same time, the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce joined the effort and established the Portsmouth-Fullerton Bridge Company. 6 The two competing organizations then sold their franchises to the Dravo Contracting Company of Pittsburgh in September 1925. Dravo Construction Company took on the responsibility of building the substructure and superstructure bridge and managing and operating the completed bridge. 10
The design of the U.S. Grant Bridge incorporated contributions from David B. Steinman, a principal of the engineering consulting firm Robinson & Steinman. 3 This firm was renowned for its expertise in suspension bridge design during the early 20th century. The U.S. Grant Bridge would be the second suspension bridge in the United States to feature a continuous stiffening truss and the first to have towers of the rocker type. The innovative use of sand-filled anchorages would be another distinctive feature. The J. E. Greiner Company of Baltimore, Maryland, was another consulting engineer. 10 F. J. Lloyd, Jr. and W. H. Walker served as field engineers for the substructure, while Sam Trinin and C. E. Paul served as field engineers for the superstructure. The resident engineer was C. P. Vogel of the J. D. Greiner Company, while the field engineer on cable spinning and erection was Jack London.
John C. Hippert, the substructure superintendent of the Dravo company, appeared in Portsmouth’s traffic court on April 19, 1926, facing a speeding charge. 10 During the court session, he expressed his strong eagerness to begin the construction of the bridge immediately. After being released, he wasted no time and promptly arranged for an office and unloaded the necessary equipment. By May 1, excavation work had already commenced for the bridge’s anchorages.
On May 5, 1926, at 9:15 AM, the groundbreaking ceremony for the new bridge took place. 9 Hundreds of citizens attended the event, and notable individuals such as Mayor John W. Jones, the late Simon Labold, D.A. Grimes, a local Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad agent, A.T. Pack, a bridge booster from South Portsmouth, and John C. Hippert of the Dravo firm, delivered speeches.
On June 3, the steel caisson for the main pier on the Kentucky side was positioned and filled with concrete. 10 By June 24, the caisson had been successfully sunk to the riverbed and was ready for further construction.
Moving to the Ohio side, on July 12, concrete was poured into the steel caisson for the main pier. 10 It was prepared for further work by August 12. Due to the saturated condition of the soil, three caissons were used instead of concrete piles at the anchorage on the Ohio approach.
On October 18, Superstructure Superintendent Geo. Bowers arrived in Portsmouth to begin work on a tower boat for erecting the steel towers. 10 The tower boat consisted of a 24 feet square wooden tower, 150 feet high, supported by two steel barges measuring 26 by 102 feet. This setup included a leg derrick with a 60-foot boom, allowing the placement of steel saddles on top of the main towers at a height exceeding 180 feet above the river’s pool level.
The last concrete was poured on the main pier of the Kentucky side on October 22. 10 Following that, the construction process involved building a cable-bent tower on the Kentucky side and erecting a 60-foot by 90-foot plate girder approach across the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad tracks.
On November 27, the last concrete was poured on the main pier of the Ohio side. 10 In early December, several days were spent repairing the sewer at the Ohio anchorage, which had been damaged during the driving of steel piling.
Cable spinning began on the Kentucky bank on January 6, 1927, and was completed by March 22. 10 The erection of the main tower on the Kentucky side commenced on January 8, followed by the erection of the main tower on the Ohio side on February 3.
The process of placing the cable strands started on April 18, with the entire process concluding on May 19. 10 Stiffening trusses were erected on the Kentucky side, with the first ones being put in place on June 27. By July 12, all of the trusses were erected, and the main suspension span was fully assembled by July 29.
The wood floor construction was completed on August 21, and an asphalt surface was installed on top of it on August 28. 10
The U.S. Grant Bridge, a wire suspension bridge, was completed at the cost of $1 million and opened for pedestrian traffic on August 30, to light traffic on September 1, and to heavy traffic on September 5, 1927. 10 It included a main suspension span of 700 feet, two approach suspension spans of 350 feet, and plate girder spans making for a total length of approximately 1,400 feet. The main suspension structure was supported by two parallel wire cables 7 inches in diameter with stiffening trusses 14 feet deep and continuous over the three suspension spans. The width of the roadway was 22 feet between curbs, with one six-foot sidewalk, but provisions were made for a 28-foot width with the sidewalk carried on brackets outside the trusses.
The bridge’s construction involved the use of significant amounts of materials. 10 Notably, 1,800 tons of structural steel were utilized, along with over 1,000 miles of No. 8 steel wire. Each cable was composed of 1,458 wires, and each wire had the capacity to bear a load of 5,000 pounds. These cables were formed by combining three strands, each consisting of 486 wires. The main cable wire weighed 365,000 pounds, while the wrapping wire weighed 31,000 pounds. In addition to the cables, the project required the installation of 59,000 rivets. Furthermore, approximately 313,000 linear feet of redwood flooring were used for the roadway deck.
On the day of the bridge’s dedication, a grand ceremony attracted hundreds of attendees. 7 The riverbanks were crowded, and people gathered in the park by the water for picnic parties in a celebration that had not been seen since Armistice Day. The air was reportedly filled with the aroma of cooking meat from a large ox roast on the Kentucky shore.
A procession began at Third and Market Streets in Portsmouth, and by 1:15 PM, it had started to assemble. 7 At 2:20 PM, Lieutenant Colonel Ulysses S. Grant III, a member of the U.S. Army’s Engineering Corps and grandson of General Ulysses S. Grant, arrived in South Portsmouth with his mother, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant II. They were greeted by an honor guard and a band. When Grant III stepped onto the bridge, he heard a bugler playing the salute of his rank, recalling their shared service in the Philippines.
Following the procession, several speeches were given by notable figures, including Ohio Governor Vic Donahey, Kentucky Governor W.J. Fields, Congressman Fred M. Vinson, and S.L. Tone of Pittsburgh, who served as the president of the Fullerton-Portsmouth Bridge Company. 7
Named after Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States and Civil War general, 6 8 it was the first privately owned toll bridge across the Ohio River, connecting Wheeling, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio. 3 This bridge served as an important link for vehicles traveling between southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky. It was also Ohio’s first automobile bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Ironton.
Initially, it operated as a toll bridge under the management of the Fullerton Portsmouth Bridge Company. The bridge was sold to the Ohio Bridge Commission in 1957. 11 In 1974, Ohio Speaker of the House Vern Riffe and State Representative William Harsha moved to pass legislation that would remove the toll from the U.S. Grant Bridge. Following that move, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) acquired the bridge from the Ohio Bridge Commission and eliminated the tolls. 4 11
In July 1978, a thorough inspection of the U.S. Grant Bridge unveiled a concerning deterioration. 5 12 During the inspection conducted by Modjeski and Masters, a bridge consulting firm, on July 6, frayed wires were discovered on a suspension cable near the bridge’s center. In the previous inspection conducted in 1975, the cables were found to be in good condition. As a result of this discovery, the bridge was promptly closed to all but emergency vehicles and pedestrian traffic. While plans were underway to make repairs, hundreds of hairline cracks in the cables were discovered, leading to a complete closure of the bridge on August 31. 17
Within a month of the closure, the Kentucky Department of Transportation (KYDOT) and ODOT requested and received 100% Emergency Relief Funding from the Federal Highway Administration for the rehabilitation of the structure. 5
In the first few weeks, Kentucky provided a National Guard helicopter for emergencies, but it was discontinued within weeks by Governor Julian Carroll because of the $1,000/day costs. 18
The bridge underwent an 18-month closure for repairs from 1978 to 1979, costing $8 million. 11 The project was carried out by the American Bridge Division of the U.S. Steel Corporation. 14 During this time, motorists had to use three ferries to cross the river since the bridge was closed. 14 16 However, the ferry couldn’t handle the 11,000 cars that used to cross the bridge daily. 11 14 Additionally, the ferry often closed due to foggy conditions on the river. As a result, workers in Kentucky had to leave for work in Ohio much earlier and sometimes take a 50-mile detour via the Ironton-Russell Bridge in Russell, Kentucky. 14 16
On June 8, 1979, the first of the seven 120-ton sections of the bridge was lowered onto a barge floating in the river, where they were repaired and stored until the bridge could be recabled. 13 The first of the seven sections was lifted back into place in November. 15
After the rehabilitation, the U.S. Grant Bridge reopened to traffic on December 21, with formal ceremonies held on January 4, 1980, to rededicate the crossing. 14 Despite blustery conditions with a temperature of 25°F and blowing snow, around 250 spectators attended the event. Politicians gave speeches, and Bridgette Grant Holbert, who was born in mid-span eight years earlier and hailed from nearby Greenup, Kentucky, cut a wide red ribbon to reopen the bridge officially.
To enhance capacity and provide redundancy for vehicular traffic in Portsmouth, a new bridge, the Carl D. Perkins Bridge, was proposed downstream of the U.S. Grant Bridge, which was eventually completed in 1988. 5 Additionally, the Jesse Stuart Memorial Bridge was constructed over the Greenup Lock and Dam in 1984.
The crossing was closed for repairs between May 26 to September 1, 1992, 19 and again in 1994. 1 Unlike before, traffic could easily detour on the Carl D. Perkins and the Jesse Stuart Memorial Bridges.
Recognizing its historical significance, the U.S. Grant Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 2001.
In 1992, ODOT initiated a study to determine whether to continue renovating the existing bridge or build a new one. 1 21 Between 1977 and 1996, ODOT had already spent $9 million on renovating parts of the bridge as they deteriorated. The study revealed that further renovations would only extend the suspension bridge’s useful life by 20 years before requiring another major rehabilitation costing $30 million. It was concluded that continuously rehabilitating the suspension bridge was not cost-effective compared to constructing a new bridge.
In April 2001, the C.J. Mahan Company, based in Grove City, Ohio, was awarded a $28.4 million contract to build a new bridge. 1 The old U.S. Grant Bridge was closed to traffic on June 30, 2001, and to commemorate its closing, Portsmouth’s Fourth of July fireworks display was launched from the middle of the bridge. 19
Immediately after the closure, construction of the new bridge began. The old suspension bridge was dismantled piece by piece, a process that started in August. 20 It was projected that the new bridge would be ready for traffic in June 2004, but progress was slow due to unfavorable weather conditions, such as severe river floods, and design flaws in the bridge’s superstructure. 1 21 These challenges led C.J. Mahan Construction to request a contract renegotiation, resulting in the project cost increasing to $38 million.
Finally, on October 16, 2006, the new U.S. Grant Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension structure, was opened for traffic at noon following a ceremony hosted by the ODOT, the city of Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce. 2 21 The bridge’s design was a first for the state, and the first to be built across the Ohio River by ODOT.
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: US Route 23
- Type: Cable-Stay Suspension
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,400' (1927); 1,685' (2006)
- Main Span Length: 700' (1927); 875' (2006)
- Spans: 350'×2 approaches (1927); 350' and 460' approaches (2006)
- Deck Width: 28' (1927); 61' (2006)
- Roadway Width: 22' (1927)
- Total Height: 180' (1927); 292' (2006)
- Navigational Clearance: 96' (1927)
- “U.S. Grant Bridge Project Summary.” Ohio Department of Transportation, 17 March 2004.
- Barron, Jeff. “U.S. Grant Bridge to open today.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 15 Oct. 2006.
- “General U.S. Grant Bridge.” National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 13 Mar. 2009.
- “Gilligan Signs Legislation To Free U.S. Grant Bridge.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 28 Feb. 1974, p. 1.
- Environmental Impact Statement: New Bridge Over the Ohio River Near Portsmouth, Ohio and South Shore, Kentucky. Kentucky Department of Transportation Office of Planning and Programming Division of Highway Systems, 1981.
- “The Bridge – A Reality.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 22 Sept. 1927, p. 25.
- Smith, Florence L. “General U.S. Grant Bridge Is Reality!” Portsmouth Daily Times, 22 Sept. 1927, p. 1.
- Plummer, C. B. “We Dedicate You To His Fond Memory.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 22 Sept. 1927, p. 1.
- “One of the Great Events in Building of the Bridge.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 22 Sept. 1927, p. 19.
- “Thousands of Rivets, Miles of Wire, Tons of Steel – And an Engineer’s Dram Comes True.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 22 Sept. 1927, p. 19.
- “Historic span shut for reconstruction.” Paducah Sun, 9 Jul. 2001, p. 2A.
- “U.S. Grant Bridge closed.” Newark Advocate, 7 Jul. 1978, p. 1.
- “Going Down.” Chillicothe Gazette, 8 Jun. 1979, p. 1.
- “Reopened bridge revives Portsmouth.” Chillicothe Gazette, 5 Jan. 1980, p. 1.
- “Heavy load going up.” Dayton Daily News, 28 Nov. 1979, p. Z1-13.
- “Ferry Service Resumes in Portsmouth.” Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, 14 Dec. 1978, p. 17.
- “U.S. Grant bridge at Portsmouth closes.” Dayton Daily News, 30 Aug. 1978, p. 8.
- Hoskins, Ken. “Bridge closing prompts fear in South Shore.” Courier-Journal, 1 Nov. 1978, pp. A1-A10.
- “Historic span shut for reconstruction.” Paducah Sun, 9 Jul. 2001, p. 2A.
- “Crews dismantle U.S. Grant Bridge.” Dayton Daily News, 17 Aug. 2001, p. 3B.
- “Portsmouth celebrates Grant Bridge opening.” Times-Gazette, 17 Oct. 2006, pp. 1A-2A.
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