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Fate of old bridge stays uncertain

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

State and local officials await a more detailed report this week on the old Ledbetter bridge, including the best way to demolish the 83-year-old span.

Land slippage along a bluff on the McCracken County side of the Tennessee River caused a substantial drop in two sections near the west approach decking last week.

Keith Todd, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman, said Monday there does not appear to have been any additional slippage over the weekend of the bridge, formally known as the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge. According to Todd, the bridge sank nearly 2 feet last Tuesday night, then another 3 or 4 feet the next day. 

"We are awaiting a map from our geotechnical people that outlines the area of the slippage," Todd said. The U.S. Geological Survey has detailed information on the area, including information on earthquake fault lines and other data about the soil underneath the area from core drilling done before the old bridge was built, according to Todd.

"This is more about the side of a hill moving than an aging bridge," Todd said.

Jerome Mansfield, McCracken County emergency management director, said a geologist from the Kentucky Geological Survey is scheduled to meet with local officials Thursday to assess the area of river bluff between the old bridge and the new one.

Meanwhile, senior cabinet staff in Frankfort are working to come up with a couple of options to either take down the affected spans or possibly the whole structure, Todd said.

"They are doing back-and-forth with contractors," Todd said. "Our engineers estimated the cost (entire demolition) at $5.4 million, and the lowest bid received was $8.4 million. They're looking at what we can do to expedite demolition.". 

The bridge problem is among a number of incidents across the region attributable to the harsh weather over the past few months, Todd said. Constant freezing and thawing, coupled with the wet weather, have contributed to issues ranging from dips along the Audubon Parkway between Henderson and Owensboro to a sinkhole that developed under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. 

Regarding the current situation in McCracken County, "As long as it stays dry, we'll probably be OK," Todd said. "The weekend before the drop in the approach spans we had a little over 3 inches of rain."

While no rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days, more is expected this weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah. Beginning around Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon the area could receive about 1.25 inches on average, according to Robin Smith, NWS meteorologist.

"If a particular area got a strong thunderstorm, that number could easily double," Smith said. The best chance for thunderstorms is between Thursday and Friday night, he added.

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