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New width restrictions prohibit semi tractor-trailers, big trucks on Ironton-Russell bridge

May. 23, 2008 @ 10:07 PM

IRONTON -- Semi tractor-trailers and big box-style trucks now are prohibited on the Ironton-Russell Bridge after new width restrictions were enacted on the 86-year-old, two-lane span.

Any commercial vehicle more than seven-feet, six inches wide now is subject to being ticketed in either Ohio or Kentucky courts. Law enforcement officers in Ironton and Russell along with Kentucky State Police and Ohio Highway Patrol will enforce the change. Buses, emergency vehicles and non-commercial vehicles are exempt from the change. More than 10,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day.

"It's a safety issue," said Mayor Rich Blankenship. "Safety is our main concern. I'd rather see them do maintenance rather than shut it down."

Tom Allyn, owner of Allyn's Jewelers at the foot of the bridge, approves of the change, but is concerned about how a $1.1 million bridge rehabilitation planned after the July 4 holiday will impact business on both sides of the river.

"It will be more than a mild inconvenience," Allyn said Friday. "We depend on that bridge. Those 60 days will be hard."

Ohio and Kentucky officials held a press conference Friday morning near the bridge to talk about the change and the upcoming bridge rehabilitation.

Weight limits were reduced on the span in 1991 to 65 percent of the legal carrying load. However, some truck drivers have ignored the limits since Ironton and Russell police don't have and aren't trained in using scales that are approved by state courts.

Now truck drivers will be subject to a ticket for disregarding a traffic control device plus court costs, said Lt. Mike Gore of the Ironton branch of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Ironton has been hampered from enforcing weight restrictions due to the lack of portable scales. They won't need them under the new restrictions, he said.

"This will be strictly enforced and enforced on a regular basis," said Police Chief Jim Carey.

"By restricting oversized, overweight commercial vehicles from using this bridge, we will be able to preserve its integrity until we complete construction of a new bridge," said Jim Brushart, Ohio Department of Transportation's deputy director of District 9.

"They've needed to do this for a while," said Greenup County Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter. "I'm glad to see it. It will be enforced on the Kentucky side, too."

Daytime bridge closures likely will start in July and last from 8 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m. when crews from Armstrong Steel Erectors will replace sections of the bridge deck and make other repairs. Under the contract, the bridge closures aren't to exceed 60 days. The project is set to be completed by Oct. 31.

A change in the bridge design calling for two bridge piers instead of one will allow construction to start in 2012 instead of 2013. The current cost is estimated at $90 million.

One impact of the change will require ambulances from the Ironton area to use the Ashland bridge to transport patients to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital or King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland. The change also will impact bus service scheduled to start July 1 in Lawrence County.

Traffic will get worse in the Ironton area before the bridge rehabilitation starts, however. The Ohio Department of Transportation has awarded a $10 million plus project to repave U.S. 52 from Hanging Rock to east of the two Ashland bridges.

The project will start next week, and lane restrictions will be in effect. A 45 mile-per-hour speed limit will also be in effect through the construction zone.

The construction is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2009.

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