Kentucky transportation officials have announced plans for a new bridge to replace the Ohio River crossing between Wickliffe, Ky., and Cairo, Ill. The existing bridge was built in 1936. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)

New Bridge To Be Built Just Upstream At Cairo, Ill.

Transportation officials plan to share bridge design information at a public meeting July 11 for a new bridge crossing the Ohio River between Wickliffe, Ky., and Cairo, Ill., just upstream from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

The meeting will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Cairo High School, 4201 St., Cairo and will be an open house format, with visitors welcome to drop in and drop out. A presentation is scheduled for 6 p.m., with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet staff and project team members available to answer questions. Both before and after the presentation, those in attendance may review displays and provide oral or written comments.

Following the meeting, materials and displays will be available on the project website at

“This meeting is a significant step forward as we will share renderings of the selected bridge type,” said Kyle Poat, Kentucky Department of Highways District 1 chief engineer. “It will be the first chance for everyone to get a view of the basic design. The project team will also have a right-of-way display for affected property owners near the site of the new structure.”

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The project, which is in the final design phase, calls for the new river crossing to be constructed roughly 1,000 feet upstream of the existing bridge, which carries U.S. 51, U.S. 60 and U.S. 62. The location was the one favored by a group of towboat captains and pilots who tested potential bridge locations during a simulation performed at the Seamen’s Church Institute’s Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, Ky.

Location Study Results

The final report for the U.S. 60 Connectivity Study, issued June 13, announced the new bridge’s location.

The year-long study examined whether to keep the bridge near its current location or to create a new crossing over the Ohio River, bypassing Wickliffe and Cairo and instead extending U.S. 60 to connect the Kentucky community of Barlow and the Illinois community of Future City, approximately 4 miles upstream of the existing 1936 bridge.

Lawmakers, including Kentucky Sen. Danny Carroll, who represents far western Kentucky, appropriated $2 million for a study to examine the possibility of the alternate route. The funds were included in Kentucky’s 2022 Enacted Highway Plan.

Carroll previously said he wondered if a more direct route between Interstate 24 in Paducah and Interstate 57 in southern Illinois might be beneficial in decades to come.

Aging Mississippi River Bridge

Carroll said he had also spoken to Missouri representatives who told him it is unlikely the 95-year-old U.S. 60/62 Mississippi River bridge between Cairo and rural Mississippi County, Mo., only a about 100 yards from the Ohio River crossing, will be replaced at the end of its lifespan, meaning travelers would have to drive through Cairo to reach the nearest Mississippi River crossing.

The U.S. 60/62 Mississippi River bridge, built in 1929, has a history of closures. The bridge closed October 2, 2023, for major structural repairs and is not expected to reopen until October 1 of this year. Previously, the Mississippi River bridge was closed for more than a year beginning in 2011, for seven months beginning in March 2015, and in 2023 from March 23 until late April after bridge inspectors said they found critical issues during a routine inspection before closing again in October.

Support For Current Location

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials said locating the new Ohio River crossing just upstream from the existing Ohio River bridge has widespread support, a lower cost and fewer environmental impacts than moving it 4 miles away.

“We know that the existing U.S. 51 bridge is nearing the end of its useful life, and we want to find the best solution to construct a new Ohio River crossing for the region,” Poat said. “This study was conducted as part of our duty to Kentuckians, to examine the potential benefits and impacts of a new route and crossing—and the findings are clear. The cost and environmental impacts of a new U.S. 60 corridor and crossing outweigh the benefits.”

The plan advanced by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet calls for a two-lane bridge that is 40 feet wide with 8-foot shoulders. The group rejected previous plans that would have advanced either a four-lane bridge or one with two lanes, but wider shoulders, that could have eventually accommodated more lanes.

Some local legislators have expressed concerns that more lanes could be needed due to development of the Alexander-Cairo Riverport project, which was announced in August 2020, with Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker promising $40 million from Rebuild Illinois 2019 capital improvement funding. While the project continues to be studied, no construction has taken place.

The U.S. 60 Connectivity Study determined that a bridge between Barlow and Future City would cost approximately $1.3 billion, versus $450 million between Wickliffe and Cairo. Additionally, the study found that relocating the bridge would have impacted wetlands, endangered wildlife and protected public lands that would require the highest level of federally mandated environmental assessment, while the site next to the current bridge has already received federal environmental approval.

Additionally, 83 percent of responses garnered during the study opposed relocating the crossing. Among those who supported keeping the current location was Angie Yu, owner of Two Rivers Fisheries in Wickliffe and one of the key figures working to develop the Kentucky International Fisheries Industrial Park there. She said bypassing Wickliffe with a new bridge would “cut off” Wickliffe from potential economic development opportunities, making it difficult to attract more investors, as well as to find workers.

The existing Wickliffe-Cairo bridge, located at Ohio River Mile 980.4, serves as both a north-south connector for U.S. 51 and an east-west transportation corridor for U.S. 60 and U.S. 62. The bridge opened to traffic November 11, 1936, and today carries about 6,600 vehicles per day between Kentucky and Illinois, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. About 40 percent of the traffic is commercial trucks. The Kentucky and Illinois highway departments took over maintenance of the structure in November 1948 when tolls were removed.

Important Traffic Corridor

The crossing is both the longest bridge in Kentucky and the westernmost bridge over the Ohio River.

Transportation officials said the bridge needs to be replaced because it is narrow, does not allow oversized or overweight loads and does not accommodate pedestrians. Sight distance on the bridge is also inadequate, and a tight horizontal curve on the Kentucky approach does not meet current federal or state design standards.

A new bridge would meet modern standards for traffic and would offer both roadway safety improvements and enhanced earthquake resistance as the bridge is in the New Madrid Fault earthquake zone.

Preliminary plans for the new bridge call for a roundabout for U.S. 51/U.S. 60/U.S. 62 at the Illinois end of the structure. The road for the new bridge will tie to an existing portion of U.S. 51 near the Minor Slough Bridge in Kentucky.

The project schedule calls for construction of the new bridge to begin in 2028 and for it to open and the old bridge to be demolished in 2032.

Caption for photo: Kentucky transportation officials have announced plans for a new bridge to replace the Ohio River crossing between Wickliffe, Ky., and Cairo, Ill. The existing bridge was built in 1936. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)