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Dislodged bearing closes M-M bridge indefinitely

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Crewmen from Walsh Construction closed the U.S. 421 Milton-Madison Bridge around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, March 11, after a steel bearing dislodged between a pier and the bridge. This incident happened at Pier 2, the first land pier on the Milton, Ky., side of the Ohio River.

Closure

The bridge has been closed until further notice. During the day on Tuesday subcontractors installed and modified signs so that all traffic is detoured to the Markland Locks and Dam Bridge, connecting Kentucky Route 1039 and Indiana State Road 101 26 miles upstream, or the I-65 Kennedy Bridge in Louisville, 46 miles downstream.

“We recognize this is a major inconvenience for people who rely on the bridge regularly,” says Dav Kessinger, project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “We’re working diligently with Walsh, the construction contractor, to resolve this issue and to safely reopen the bridge as quickly as possible.”

Walsh’s contract allows 10 closure days. Tuesday’s closure is the fourth charged closure day since the project began. A decision to reopen the bridge will be based on safety. At this point, it is not known when traffic will be allowed to resume on the bridge. 

Ferry

Ferry service is planned to transport emergency vehicles only across the river. At press time Tuesday evening the ferryboat was traveling down the Ohio River from the Cincinnati area and was expected to begin service by Wednesday evening. Residents are asked to stay clear of Ferry Street near the Milton boat ramp and the temporary Ferry Street landing in Madison to allow access for emergency vehicles if necessary. The Milton boat ramp will also be closed to the public during the bridge closure.

Structural condition of bridge

The new bridge superstructure is now resting on top of temporary pier 2. Structural engineers with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and subcontractors Buckland & Taylor and Burgess & Niple are assessing the structural condition of the bridge. The engineers are considering several options for reopening the bridge as soon as possible

What is a bearing?

Different types of bearings are found on most bridges between the vertical supports, or substructure, and the horizontal superstructure. Bridges are designed such that the bearings may be replaced as part of a bridge’s normal maintenance lifecycle.

Bearings allow the bridge to expand and contract naturally as a result of changes in temperature and other factors. With the bearing now dislodged and temperature swings forecasted, residents should not be alarmed if they hear noises as the bridge expands and contracts.

Slide

The slide will be rescheduled once engineers can make a full assessment of the bridge and determine what repairs are necessary. Partial preparations for the slide resumed during the day Tuesday.

It is not likely that the bridge will be reopened prior to the slide. A small, concrete bridge section over the Milton, Ky., river bank is tentatively scheduled to be slid on Thursday, March 13.

Once the all clear is given to begin the slide of the main bridge section, the procedure could take up to 16 hours before the bridge rests in its final location – on top of the refurbished piers that held the old Milton-Madison Bridge in place beginning in 1929. During the slide, the U.S. Coast Guard will close the river.

The new bridge currently sits atop temporary piers. To reach its new home, it will slide 55 feet. While pulling 30 million pounds of steel and concrete that distance in a matter of hours is an engineering marvel, it’s also a somewhat simple process.

Polished steel sliding plates are secured on top of the refurbished piers. Steel cables and hydraulic jacks controlled by computers will be used to pull the bridge. Eight jacks are mounted on the piers. Industrial lubrication will be put on the slide plates to grease the skids. Then, through a series of grabs and pulls, the bridge will be slid into place. Each grab and pull is expected to move the bridge 20–22 inches – up to 10 feet per hour.

Once the bridge is in its final position, work begins to secure it, which involves welding and bolting it in place. Reconnecting the driving surfaces requires most of the working days during the seven-day closure. Installing expansion joints, pouring concrete, configuring drainage and re-striping will take the remainder of the closure. 

All schedules are tentative because weather and other factors can alter plans.

“We’re doing something that’s never been done before – pulling a half-mile bridge weighing 30 million pounds across 55 feet,” Kessinger said. “Our top priority is safety. So, we will move at a pace that is safe.”

The new steel truss bridge is 2,428-feet long and 40-feet wide with two 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders – twice as wide as the old bridge. A five-foot-wide cantilevered sidewalk will be added to the structure in the coming months after the slide.

Once the slide is completed, construction crews will perform necessary work to connect the bridge to the permanent approaches. This work includes such items as pouring concrete, installation of expansion joints and pavement striping.

Walsh employee

As it dislodged, the steel bearing struck a Walsh employee, who was taken to King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Madison for observation. He was released later Tuesday morning. 

About the project and updates

For the latest information and updates, visit miltonmadisonbridge.com or follow the project on social media at twitter.com/MMBridgeProject. The latest news will also be shared via the project’s e-newsletter as well as through local media.

The Milton-Madison Bridge Project is a joint effort between the Indiana Department of Transportation and KYTC. The new steel truss bridge is 2,428 feet long and 40 feet wide with two 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders – twice as wide as the old bridge. It currently sits in temporary piers and will be slid laterally 55 feet into place on permanent piers.­