(Aurora, KY, Jan. 27, 2012) -Thursday evening at 8:10 p.m., the Delta Mariner, a ship belonging to Foss Corporation of Seattle Washington, carrying NASA rocket parts, slammed into Eggner's Ferry Bridge. The ship carried two lengths of bridge steel and blacktop on its bow before coming to a stop.
By some miracle, no one was injured either on the ship or on the bridge. Eggner's Ferry Bridge, according to the KY Department of Transportation, is traveled by 2800 vehicles each day. That came to a screeching halt on Thursday night.
The bridge on Highway 80 crosses Kentucky Lake, joining the island that is the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) with Trigg County and Cadiz. The west end of the bridge sits in Marshall County. The west in the LBL.
Before the collision, travel from Murray to Cadiz by Highway 80, (recently improved to four lanes up to Eggner's Ferry Bridge,) is a trip of 37 miles. With the bridge unusable, the trip from Murray to Cadiz will increase to 68 miles.
The Kentucky Department of Transportation and Kentucky Park Service shut down access to the bridge while the US Coast Guard is investigating the cause or causes. That can take at least several days. The Transportation Cabinet is in the process of testing the bridge to assure that boats can pass under it without fear of debris falling on them. They also sent workers up the spans to measure the bridge for stress from the collision.
Old timers on the Marshall County side of the bridge were full of theories about the accident. Some said the ship was going too fast. Others said the ship was under the wrong span. Some speculated that the lake level was higher than expected, causing the ship to ride higher in the water. Still others opined that lights on the bridge had gone out in recent flooding and had not been replaced.
The parent company refused to be drawn into a blame game, saying through a spokesman that it would await the Coast Guard's decision.
Whoever is at fault, it is obvious from looking at the eighty year old structure's missing parts that replacing them will be prohibitively expensive both in time and funds. A new bridge to replace Eggner's Ferry Bridge is already on the state six year road plan. It is also obvious that tourism at LBL and the resorts and state resort parks around it - Kentucky Dam and Kentucky Village are going to feel the effects of the collision for some time. It could not have come at a worse time for Kentucky tourism when money to repair and maintain the parks seems to have disappeared.
Elected officials, including Sen. Paul and Lt. Governor Abramson, gathered at Golden Pond on the east side of the Lake to view the damage and hold a press briefing.
What is not obvious is why a ship that looks large enough to be an ocean liner mistakenly attempted to go under a bridge too low for safe passage.
UPDATE: Impact from ramming by cargo vessel may have caused pier to shift (Press release KYTC)
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 28, 2012) – A dive team from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) plans to place sensors on a pier of the U.S. 68/KY 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake to help determine how badly it was damaged when a cargo vessel rammed the bridge Thursday night. The crash involving the vessel Delta Mariner knocked out a 322-foot span of the venerable bridge between Marshall County and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky. The combined-route highway, which runs east-west, is now closed indefinitely. At issue is the bridge pier at the eastern edge of the impact area. “We have to know for certain whether the pier has been shifted, and if so, whether it is still moving,” Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said Saturday. “That will have a huge influence on our decisions as we weigh the options for restoring traffic on U.S. 68 and KY 80.”
Since the crash, KYTC inspectors have been conducting an emergency examination of the bridge’s piers and remaining truss spans. Those extending west of the impact area were deemed to be stable, but inspectors on Friday found that indications that the pier on the eastern edge of the impact area had been pulled out of position. Next week, conditions permitting, a dive team will begin placing sensors on the bottom of the pier. The sensors measure degree of tilt and can detect changes if the pier is moving. Secretary Hancock said it will take a few weeks to collect and analyze the data.
The two-lane bridge – formally the Eggners Ferry Bridge – opened to traffic in 1932. Its elevation was raised in 1943 when the Tennessee River was impounded to create Kentucky Lake. A KYTC traffic count conducted in 2009 showed 2,650 vehicles per day crossed the bridge. The Transportation Cabinet is in the process of replacing the bridge, along with the nearby bridge over Lake Barkley on the eastern side of Land Between the Lakes. Preconstruction work, including geotechnical drilling, began months ago. Gov. Steve Beshear’s recommended highway plan, which he sent to the General Assembly on Jan. 17, contains $165 million in construction funding for a new Kentucky Lake bridge from 2013 through 2015. With closure of the bridge, KYTC has posted signs to detour traffic onto Interstate 24, which circles north of Land Between the Lakes. Motorists also can get around Land Between the Lakes via U.S. 62 on the northern end and KY 121 – becoming Tennessee 119 – on the south.