Demolition workers lowered the 375-foot center section of the old Ironton-Russell Bridge connecting Southern Ohio and Northeast Kentucky to a barge Monday in the first major step toward removing the span.
In an operation that took several hours, workers painstakingly winched the section down using cranes and a framework on each end to hold the section steady.
The section took about 2 1/2 hours to drop about 60 feet to waiting barges on the rain-shrouded river, creeping downward at about four inches per minute — almost imperceptible to the eye.
Sodden spectators braved a bone-chilling drizzle under heavily overcast skies to watch and photograph the operation and reminisce about a structure that has been a constant presence for close to a century.
“I remember going across since I was a little kid. My grandpa took me across. We had to pay,” said Tom Blankenship of Coal Grove. “We needed a new bridge. The old one was getting kind of rickety in places,” he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Ohio River to through traffic and patrolled the stretch adjacent to the span in small craft. The river was to remain closed until the section was completely down, removed to a breakup area on the Kentucky shore and all equipment removed from the navigation channel, said Coast Guard bridge management specialist Rodney Wurgler.
The plan calls for Brayman to further dismantle the section and remove the pieces for salvage, said Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller.
The remaining steel sections of the bridge will be dismantled in place and removed for salvage.
The painstaking operation was on a tight time clock; Brayman’s permit allowed it to close the river for up to 12 hours, Fuller said.
Actually lowering the span took about four hours, with the entire operation taking around six hours, she said. “It appears to have gone very well . . . once it got going it went pretty smoothly.”
Built in 1922, the bridge has been closed since Nov. 23 when the new Oakley C. Collins Bridge was opened just upstream.
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