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Old Ledbetter bridge drops again

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

The west approach spans on the old Ledbetter bridge have dropped another couple of inches because of recent rain, and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials continue to closely monitor the situation with more rain expected.

The approach spans shifted 2.25 inches in the past couple of days, an indication the moving hillside is continuing to shift the land piers supporting the approaches at the west end of the bridge, according to Keith Todd, cabinet spokesman.

"We've only had an inch or so of rain," Todd said Tuesday afternoon, noting the 80 percent chance of additional rain forecast into today. "The more rain we have the more concerned we are."

The 83-year-old bridge, which spans the Tennessee River from McCracken to Livingston counties, has dropped more than 5 feet since April 30. The bridge closed last July when the new $66 million Ledbetter bridge opened upstream.

According to Todd, the west approach spans are being checked several times a day.

While an earlier assessment indicated a collapse of the approach spans is not likely to affect the main bridge spans, District 1 Chief Engineer Mike McGregor said the latest movement has prompted engineers to take additional precautions. Those include urging the public to avoid areas beneath the approach spans, and the planned placing of solar-powered navigation lights on the main truss spans and piers in case power to the existing lights should be cut by an additional drop.

"We'd like to emphasize the need for people to stay out from under the bridge," Todd said. "We've been told there are Facebook pictures of people under the bridge, and we don't need that. That's not a good place to be. And, with all this rain, it wouldn't be a good idea to do any hiking down there either."

Transportation officials have been in regular communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and McCracken County Emergency Management about the bridge and land slippage.

According to McCracken County Emergency Management Director Jerome Mansfield, no evacuation of homes along the bluff has been ordered. Residents have been alerted to the land slippage and encouraged to report anything unusual that might indicate additional movement of land along the bluff.

Sheriff Jon Hayden and deputies have placed caution tape along the shoreline to keep people away from the slumping approach spans and leaning piers.

Transportation Cabinet officials continue negotiations aimed at expediting demolition of the bridge, according to Todd.

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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