New bridge opens to traffic Monday night

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By Dave Taylor

Local motorists are enjoying the wide expanse of the new Milton-Madison Bridge over the Ohio River, which opened to traffic about 9:37 p.m. Monday.


The transition of traffic from the narrow 1929-vintage span to the new replacement span in its temporary location atop temporary piers came with a lot of fanfare as motorists on both sides of the river waited in queue for the opportunity to be among the first to cross.

Walsh Construction Company celebrated the milestone by having ironworkers, engineers and other workers associated with the project pose for a photo on the structure. Crewmembers then walked the length of the structure placing traffic cones along the length of both sides of the roadway prior to removing traffic barriers and allowing traffic to flow.

Local officials were quick to praise the opening of the new span.

“It’s nice to be getting back to normal,” Milton Mayor Denny Jackson said. “I know the businesses downtown are going to be happy. Also, knowing we have a newer and safer structure will go a long way to sooth some nerves now that the old bridge is finished its career of duty.”

Driving across the bridge in the daylight Tuesday morning, Jackson said the thought that struck him was how wide open the bridge looks compared to the old structure. “It looks so airy,” he said. “It is really nice!”

“It’s kind of overwhelming compared to what we’re used to,” Trimble County Judge-Executive Jerry Powell said. He expressed surprise over the number of people who waited in line to cross the span Monday night. “I wasn’t expecting that much excitement over the opening of it in the temporary location. I would have expected that when it’s in the final, permanent location.”

Madison Mayor Damon Welch had an opportunity last week to go out on the new span with engineers for a “sneak peek,” he said Tuesday. “But, of course, there wasn’t traffic on it and there were workers out there.

“I’m really excited about it being open,” Welch said. “You know, for all intents and purposes we’re driving on the new bridge with the exception of those two doglegs.”

Local residents have watched with eager anticipation as Walsh Construction Company has labored over the past two years on construction of the new bridge that will carry U.S. 421 traffic across the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana for many years to come. Now, workers are gearing up for some of the final – and most anticipated – stages of the project, expected to take place this summer.

In mid-May, Walsh completed pouring the concrete deck of the new span. The deck with 5,000 tons of concrete was installed in three separate pours of 800-feet each. Last week workers installed the new steel guardrails and completed spot touchup painting of the new truss.

For the past year, drivers have used temporary ramps to access the existing US 421 bridge. But following the traffic switch, motorists are accessing the new span on the newly-constructed permanent approaches in Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., according to Kevin Hetrick, project manager for the Indiana Department of Transportation. Near the end of the approach, drivers access a short transition span that takes them to the new bridge, which is about 15 feet west, or downriver, of the old bridge.

The temporary access to the old bridge from Ferry Street in Madison has been closed. While Ferry Street in Milton is still accessible to the Milton boat ramp, the temporary approach to the old bridge has been closed on the Kentucky side.

The new bridge is 40 feet wide – twice as wide as the old bridge—with two 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders.

With the traffic pattern change comes a temporary weight limit. Since March 2012, the original bridge span has been posted with a 3-ton weight limit and a 36-foot vehicle-length restriction. The weight limit increases to 15 tons while the new span sits on temporary piers, and the 36-foot length restriction remains in place.

With traffic now diverted to the new span in its temporary location, the next phase of the project gets underway with the demolition of the 1929 span. Workers will begin removing the road deck and steel truss of the old bridge enabling crews to access the tops of the original concrete piers for further rehabilitation work. The original piers have been widened and reinforced for reuse to support the new, wider bridge. New, wider caps must yet be installed on the piers to accommodate the expanded width of the new truss.

Extra care will be taken to protect the existing piers during the demolition phase. Using controlled explosives, sections of the old truss will be severed from the structure. Controlled explosions are smaller explosions designed to precisely cut the steel spans, allowing them to drop into the river where they will be retrieved and placed on barges. Once the road deck and steel truss are removed, Walsh will begin construction of the wider pier caps.

“All this sets the stage for what we believe to be the largest bridge slide ever to take place in North America – and possibly the world,” said Dav Kessinger, project manager for the Kentucky State Transportation Cabinet.

Later this summer, the new 2,427-foot-long span will be slid from its current temporary location onto its eventual permanent location 15 feet upriver on the renovated existing piers. The bridge is expected to close for about a week while the slide takes place and approach connections are completed, according to a statement by Andrea Clifford, public information officer for the KYTC District 5 office in Louisville.

Walsh Construction Company’s innovative multistep method of replacing the bridge has allowed the bridge to remain open during construction, avoiding the originally expected year-long closure.

Following the bridge slide in mid- to late-summer, much work will still remain before the project will be completed. A pedestrian sidewalk will not be in place by the time motorists are using the new span. The sidewalk has been poured along the approach on the Milton side of the river. Work continues on a series of ramps on the Madison side of the river that will eventually enable pedestrian traffic to exit the sidewalk on Vaughn Drive. The five-foot walkway will be cantilevered off the west side of the span with railings installed for pedestrian protection. The new sidewalk is expected to be ready for use this fall, several months after the new bridge opens to traffic.

The temporary traffic ramps, which have been in use over the past year on both sides of the river, will be dismantled before completion of the project.