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Ledbetter Bridge falls down

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Bill Schroeder had heard loud rumbles coming from the Old Ledbetter Bridge over the past week.

But when two of the bridge's land-based piers and the spans they supported went sliding to the ground at 2:07 a.m. Sunday morning, he didn't hear a thing.

Schroeder said he heard a noise around 9 p.m. Saturday, but "it wasn't the big crash."

Over the previous week, he would call Keith Todd, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman, when he heard noises from the bridge shifting. But Sunday morning, Todd beat Schroeder to the scene.

At 2:10 a.m. Sunday, the Kentucky State Police notified the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Engineers that two piers and the three approach spans they supported on the McCracken County side of the river had dropped to the ground. Sensors on the bridge showed the drop occurred at 2:07 a.m.

According to Todd, the U.S. Coast Guard was immediately informed of the collapse to alert any boats in the area, although the inspectors waited until daylight to evaluate the bridge approach. Initially, officials were under the impression that three approach spans had fallen, but a check of the area before sunrise found that two had fallen and one of the approach spans is still elevated. It's supported by one land-based pier that is "standing but severely leaning," Todd reported.

The pier that is still standing is leaning toward the McCracken County side of the river and is also cracked, Todd said.

He said some engineers have said they expect it to fall within the next week.

After the bridge closed in July, 2013 and traffic was rerouted to the new U.S. 60 bridge, KYTC was in full motion to take the Old Ledbetter down.

Progress for removal slowed after KYTC received higher bids than the $5 million it estimated removal would cost. After KYTC received bids in the area of $8.4 million, the cabinet had considered restarting the bidding process, Todd said, when it received a $5.64 million offer for a joint contract with Haydon Bridge Co. and Kay and Kay Construction Co., the same contractors that built the new U.S. 60 Tennessee River Bridge.

Sunday's drop came after inspectors found there had been movement at the west end of the bridge on April 30, according to information from Todd. Over the past month, KYTC has been watching for land slippage as a result of heavy rains. Land slippage caused a power pole on a nearby bluff to be pulled down and electricity was cut off to the bridge on June 1. Engineers installed solar powered lights to help with river traffic navigation.

Todd said the removal is a six-month process. It's slated to be finished by Dec. 1.

A small crane and track hoe were delivered to the site last week, and contractors are in the process of delivering a 200-ton crane, which will come in 10 separate truckloads before being pieced together.

Todd said he doesn't think Sunday's drop will slow down removal.

"These guys are used to adapting ... it's an ongoing process," he said.

In the meantime, KYTC is urging the public to stay away from the bluff and bridge.

Todd said there is a chance more of the bluff could come down and the approach spans are still moving. Area law enforcement officials have been patrolling the area and Todd said they will issue citations for trespassing.

Those who are interested in seeing the bridge from a safe view should go to the Livingston County side of the river, on Delta Drive near the Livingston Point Elevator. 

"I know people have a natural curiosity, but we've put up some additional no trespassing signs ... and we're asking people to respect that," Todd said.

Schroeder said he doesn't expect his property to be affected, but he said he'll probably seek a geologist's opinion. He's lived on the property that sets west of the Old Ledbetter Bridge's McCracken County entrance since the 1970s. The bridge was built in 1931, the same year Schroeder was born.

Schroeder said Old Ledbetter was once a toll bridge, and he said a surveyor once told him the deck of the bridge is at the same elevation as a 10-story building in downtown Paducah.

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