Meetings on Cairo Bridge project set

Contributed photo

The U.S. 51 Ohio River Bridge, also known as the Cairo Bridge, connects Wickliffe and Cairo, Illinois. The Kentucky and Illinois transportation departments will hold public meetings next week to update the public on plans to replace the structure, which was opened in 1937.

Transportation officials in Kentucky and Illinois will hold two informational meetings next week to update the public on plans for the eventual replacement of the U.S. Ohio River Bridge which connects Wickliffe and Cairo, Illinois.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Illinois Department of Transportation have started preliminary and environmental analysis work on the structure, also known as the Cairo Bridge.

The first meeting will be Monday at the Fort Jefferson Welcome Center in Wickliffe, followed by a meeting Tuesday at the Cairo High School. Both meetings will be an open house format and last from 5-7 p.m.

"We are asking area residents, those who cross the bridge, businesses that depend on commerce created by bridge traffic, and shippers who have trucks hauling materials across the bridge to attend one of these meetings," said KYTC District 1 Chief Engineer Kyle Poat.

A KYTC study from 2014 estimated the cost of replacing the bridge at approximately $236.2 million.

"We've done some additional study since the last one so this is kind of updating people on where we are now and where we think things are headed," said Keith Todd, KYTC cabinet spokesman.

"We just need some public input to keep things moving."

One of the factors in considering bridge replacement is the distance area residents would have to travel if the existing bridge were to be closed. According to the study, in that event, the detour between Wickliffe and Cairo increases the drive from 7 to 80-plus miles each direction.

That would pose a hardship for Cairo residents driving to work in Kentucky as well as Kentucky's farmers transporting crops and livestock to the interstates and ports in Ilinois, the study indicated.

The original bridge was constructed in 1937 by the Cairo Bridge Commission as a toll facility. Tolls were removed in 1948 when the highway departments of Kentucky and Illinois took over maintenance of the structure.

It is estimated the bridge carries approximately 5,500 vehicles across the Ohio River each day, with trucks accounting for about 35 percent of that cross-river traffic.

Handouts containing information about the project, comment sheets and displays will be available at the meetings.

Individuals or organizations wishing to submit comments outside of the public meetings can contact Chris Kuntz at the KYTC District 1 office, 5501 Kentucky Dam Road, Paducah, 42003, or call 270-898-2431.

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