Sunday, January 29, 2012

You Can't Get There From Here Anymore

Missing Bridge Span
Every January, the Kentucky State Parks sponsor Eagle Weekends at the three state parks near Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky. Both resident and migrating Bald Eagles can be found via a cruise on the water or van rides to bays popular with these wonderful birds. Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky was asked to do the Saturday evening program at the Barkley Lake weekend, and I gladly volunteered. I became interested in doing raptor programs at just such a weekend several years ago, so now the circle has turned back to the beginning.
CQ Princess - Eagle Tours
However, when we arrived on Friday afternoon after a 4 hour drive from Louisville, we learned that an accident had occurred on the lake the night before. Normally it takes only 20 minutes to drive across an old bridge spanning Kentucky Lake between Lake Barkley State Park and Kenlake State Park where we would board the CQ Princess for the eagle cruise. The weekend planners tried to contact everyone who had signed up, and many cancelled out altogether. The red mark on this map shows where the bridge was, and the blue line the extra hour and a half detour we took to reach the Princess.
Land Between the Lakes - Western Kentucky
Kentucky Lake was created by the TVA in the 1940's when they dammed up the Tennessee River, making it navigable to barge traffic. All traffic must pass beneath a two-lane narrow bridge built in 1932. I've always hated that bridge! If a semi comes across, there is hardly room for my car! Two sections of the Eggner Ferry Bridge, were destroyed by the northbound Delta Mariner, a 312-foot ship carrying rocket components from Decatur, Ala., to Cape Canaveral in Florida. This ship is much much taller than the normal barge traffic. A fully-loaded barge is 1200 feet long,  but the tow boat is the tallest part.
Delta Mariner
During the dark, it tried to pass under one of the smaller spans designated for recreational traffic, instead of the larger span nearby. The local news said that two local pilots were on board. One can only speculate what the pilots and captain thought they were doing as tons of steel and pavement descended right in front of them. Fortunately, no motor vehicles went down into the lake when the road disappeared - one of my personal nightmares driving over bridges! The steel and pavement were easily seen draped over the bow of this huge ocean-going ship.
Coal Barge going under remaining bridge
Of course the Coast Guard closed the lake to all water traffic while barricades blocked vehicular traffic. At first, we thought our eagle cruise would have to go south along the lake, while we always went north in previous years. By the time we boarded the boat, the Coast Guard decided the bridge wasn't going to fall into the water, and started allowing the backed up barges and our tour boat to pass under the bridge. The bridge carries about 2,800 vehicles a day between Marshall County and the Land Between the Lakes, including many who travel to nearby Murray State University on a daily basis.  For us, the detour was a slight inconvenience, but those folks will have a very difficult time getting to work and school. The hard part will be deciding what to do after they remove the ship and debris. It makes no sense to me to "repair" an 80 year old bridge that was inadequate to begin with, but how will they find the money to replace the bridge with something big enough for traffic to go under it?

Yes, we saw eagles, and I'll show more about them in the next post!

1 comment:

Jen said...

That's such a crazy story- the photos blow my mind! I'm glad you were still able to do the eagle cruise, but what a bummer about the bridge...