the US 51 Bridge Replacement

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About the Project

The purpose of the US 51 Bridge Project is to improve cross-river mobility between Wickliffe, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois, by addressing the safety and reliability issues caused by the narrow lane widths, lack of shoulders, and tight curve of the existing bridge and its approaches.

In 2013, KYTC began a long-range planning study to determine the preferred location of the future crossing of the Ohio River between Wickliffe and Cairo. The results of the study can be found here.

The project is now in the Final Design stage. The next steps include additional geotechnical exploration and analysis, environmental permitting, Right of Way acquisition, final hydraulics analysis, detailed roadway and bridge design, and the development of construction plans.

About the Project

The US 51 Bridge is the longest bridge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and is the westernmost crossing of the Ohio River. The bridge was built in 1938, and while there is no specific age at which a bridge needs to be replaced, the bridge does not meet the latest national highway safety design standards and its age puts it near the end of its lifecycle. The existing bridge deck is 22.5 feet wide with narrow 10-foot lanes and 1.25-foot shoulders. It does not accommodate pedestrian traffic. The 2013 planning study noted inadequate vehicle headlight sight distance and a tight horizontal curve on the Kentucky approach which does not meet national or state design standards. Between 2019 and 2024, there were more than 20 vehicle crashes on the bridge.

The bridge was designed before much was known about earthquake engineering. The New Madrid fault line underlies the geographic area. Applying current seismic design criteria, preliminary estimates indicate that severe damage or collapse is probable in the event of a major earthquake.

 

Currently, the bridge does not allow oversized or overweight permit loads.

About the Project

The US 51 Bridge is the longest bridge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and is the westernmost crossing of the Ohio River. The bridge was built in 1938, and while there is no specific age at which a bridge needs to be replaced, the bridge does not meet the latest national highway safety design standards and its age puts it near the end of its lifecycle. The existing bridge deck is 22.5 feet wide with narrow 10-foot lanes and 1.25-foot shoulders. It does not accommodate pedestrian traffic. The 2013 planning study noted inadequate vehicle headlight sight distance and a tight horizontal curve on the Kentucky approach which does not meet national or state design standards. Between 2019 and 2024, there were more than 20 vehicle crashes on the bridge.

 

The bridge was designed before much was known about earthquake engineering. The New Madrid fault line underlies the geographic area. Applying current seismic design criteria, preliminary estimates indicate that severe damage or collapse is probable in the event of a major earthquake.

 

Currently, the bridge does not allow oversized or overweight permit loads.

The Selection Process

KYTC, IDOT, and the project team heavily weighed input from various stakeholders over many years to determine the best option for the residents of Cairo, Illinois; Wickliffe, Kentucky, and the traveling public.

In 2013, KYTC conducted a study to find the best corridor to construct a new Ohio River Bridge Crossing. Eight options were considered. In January 2014, the findings of the US 51 Bridge Project Planning Study were published. This planning-level review included a location study, an environmental overview, and recommendations for a preferred corridor alternative to be considered further in the next phase of work.

The preferred alternative was identified based on the needs of the communities, impacts on the environment, and the ability to improve the safety and long-term mobility of the traveling public. For more on the study, selection process and project public meetings, please visit the Public Involvement page.

The project is currently in the Final Design phase. The next steps include finalizing the bridge type, developing final alignments, and developing construction plans. Construction is expected to begin in 2028.

Final Bridge Selection

KYTC and the project team weighed input from the various public meetings, as well as the pros and cons of each bridge location option and determined that there was an overwhelming favorite by the “Citizen’s Advisory and Environmental Justice Group (CAG/EJ), the navigation industry, and the project team. This option, then referred to as “Alternative 2,” has been formally selected and is now referred to as the “preferred alternative.”

Intersection Type

The replacement bridge will feature a roundabout on the Illinois side. This roundabout provides the least delay for drivers and supports future growth in Kentucky, Illinois or Missouri by not favoring one direction.

Bridge Width

The replacement bridge will be a 40-foot-wide bridge featuring 8-foot shoulders. This two-lane bridge will also support bicycle traffic.

Bridge Type

All three bridge types and span arrangements will be carried forward to the next phase where more input will be gathered.

Take a Peek Into The Past

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