Kentucky’s Massive Bridge Restoration Program Under Way
All About Safety: The Bridging Kentucky Program Will Replace or Restore Nearly 1,000 Bridges in Six Years
Faced with nearly 1,000 bridges closed or unable to carry the required loads, the Kentucky General Assembly and Governor Matt Bevin created the $700 million, six-year Bridging Kentucky program to restore or replace all of those bridges.
“This program is about safety,” says Royce Meredith, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Program Manager for Bridging Kentucky. “This is new and has never been done before in Kentucky.”
KYTC is responsible for the safety of more than 14,000 bridges, about 9,000 state-owned and 5,000 county- and municipal-owned structures. Bridges in every one of the state’s 120 counties will be replaced or repaired. About 60 percent of the city and county bridges are in need of repair or in danger of being closed. Interstate bridges are not part of the program.
“During the last 10 to 15 years, the inventory of bridges in bad shape has grown,” Meredith reports. “We have not been able to keep up with the pace. These are the bridges that struggle for funding.”
Seventy bridges already have been closed to traffic, and more than 900 cannot carry the legal loads they are designed to carry.
“That impacts school buses, garbage trucks, commerce, etc.,” Meredith says. “These are the local, smaller routes that have struggled to receive funding in the past. It’s helping counties out.”
The bridges range in age from 30 years to more than 100 years old. After years of deferring maintenance on many of the bridges, the state government acted in 2018.
“We have been struggling to keep pace with the bridges in poor condition,” Meredith says. “The administration wanted to make this a priority, and that is what we are doing.”
The Federal Highway Administration is partnering in the program.
Choosing the Bridges
KYTC prioritized bridges with load restrictions, those rated in poor condition and bridges in the state’s six-year highway plan. Officials also compiled data from state bridge inspectors to determine the most cost-effective strategies to restore the bridges – through replacement or rehabilitation
“Repairing and reopening closed bridges will reestablish vital routes for school buses, emergency vehicles and the hard-working men and women who make Kentucky great,” Governor Bevin said in a release. “We are cleaning up years of neglect. Much work remains to be done, but we are excited by the progress we are making.”
KYTC assembled a team of experienced engineers and professionals to develop time-saving and cost-effective approaches to restore the bridges. Work began last year, the same year the legislation was passed. KYTC Secretary Greg Thomas kept his word that citizens would not have a long wait to see the tangible benefits of the bridge program.
The program teamdetermined the replacement and rehabilitation costs and then did a life-cycle analysis.
“We based it on what was going to be the best value for Kentucky,” Meredith says.
All of the bridge replacements will have a 75-year design length, and all of the bridges being repaired or reconstructed will have a 30-year design life.
KYTC brought in a team of 22 consulting engineers to help manage design, procurement, administration, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocations, environmental protections, and letting. Stantec Engineering in Louisville, AECOM of Los Angeles, and Qk4 of Louisville lead the consulting team.
Most of the bridges are over water, and about 40 pass over railroad tracks. All environmental issues must be resolved before construction can commence. About one-third of the consulting teams are working on environmental processes. “That is a critical path for us,” Meredith says.
Reconstructing and Replacing the Bridges
Where possible and cost effective, KYTC opted to repair bridges or replace them in the same footprint to limit right-of-way and utility impacts, Meredith explains.
“In some cases, we will shut the bridge down for 30 or 45 days, whatever it takes to reconstruct the bridge,” Meredith says. “If feasible, we will do part-width construction. But a lot of these bridges are not wide enough to do part-width construction.”
On average, the bridges are 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. Some are as narrow as 10-feet wide. About 25 percent of the bridges are county-owned, and many are on dead-end routes, serving 40 to 50 homes. In those cases, KYTC will put in temporary diversions to maintain access for residents and emergency vehicles.
“In most cases, these are the last bridge someone crosses before pulling into a driveway,” Meredith says.
Local contractors will perform most of the work, Meredith says. Bush & Burchett of Allen, Kentucky, completed the bridge on KY 610 in Pike County. M & M Services Co. Inc. of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, received the contract for a new bridge deck and joint repairs on the KY 177 bridge over Bowman Creek in Kenton County.
In an effort to expedite projects and improve value or work, KYTC is using bridge bundling, putting as many as 10 or 11 bridges into one contract. The contractor selected will have a certain amount of time to complete all of the bridges.
“We are going to give them an appropriate amount of time to finish,” Meredith says. “We are hoping by bundling it will be easier on the contractor to get the work complete.”
As of February, KYTC has let more than 60 bridges, with the number ready for construction increasing every month. In January, 13 contracts were let. In February, the state let 20 bridges, including the rehabilitation of the historic Bernheim Bridge in Cherokee Park in Louisville to Louisville Paving Co.
At time of publication, 50 projects were to be let in March. Meredith anticipated 30 to 40 bridge projects would be let monthly for the rest of the year.
“All bridges will be let to construction by the summer of 2024,” Meredith says. “That’s an average of about three times more than we would normally let in the state.”
The actual work should be complete by 2026.
“I’m proud we are getting this accomplished, and taking care of a need that impacts people’s lives,” Meredith says. “It’s an aggressive program, and it will do a lot of good for the Commonwealth.”
Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet