Monday, September 28, 2009

Infrastructure on the Ohio

A person who commented on the previous post about the Markland Locks and Dam urges more spending on infrastructure repairs and improvements. That got me thinking some more about something that has been on my mind in recent days as I've worked on an outline for a book I'm writing, for my own sanity if nothing else.

A lot of highway bridges over the Ohio River in the areas I'm most familiar with were built by private companies in the 1920s. At the same time, the original system of locks and dams on the Ohio was finished in 1929.

The Depression came, and such construction stopped with a few exceptions. The three dams near Pittsburgh and the Gallipolis Locks and Dam, which really was for the improvement of the Kanawha River, come to mind, although I might be wrong about the dams on the upper Ohio. Then came World War II, and steel was needed elsewhere. In the late 1940s, the federal government started talking about replacing the old locks and dams. The first of the new generation of high-lift locks and dams went into service in the 1950s. The locks at the Greenup Locks and Dam were in use before construction of the dam itself was finished, as thee was no other way for boats to pass. I think the first boat to pass through Greenup was the Bob Bentner. I would get the exact date, but I no long have access to the old clip files at The Herald-Dispatch since my job was eliminated in May.

The first of the new generation of highway bridges in my section of the Ohio (Parkersburg WV to Maysville KY) was the West 17th Street Bridge at Huntington WV. It opened in 1967,  I think. It's a two-lane bridge that connects four-lane US 52 in Ohio with four-lane Interstate 64 in West Virginia.

The Silver Bridge fell on Dec. 15, 1967, and we had to face the fact that our bridges were old and obsolete. The Silver Memorial Bridghe opened in 1969 to replace the Silver Bridge. Construction on a new bridge between Belpre OH and Parkersburg WV started in the mid 1970s, I believe, and the old bridge was demolished in 1980. Construction on the new bridge at Ravenswood WV began at around that time. It replaced a ferry. I remember riding the ferry in 1975.

The old bridge at St. Marys WV was of the same design as the Silver Bridge. It was removed and replaced with a bridge almost identical to the Silver Memorial Bridge.

The year 1985 saw three new bridges open -- Ashland KY, Huntington and over the Greenup Locks and Dam.

There was also a new bridge built near Maysville in the late 1990s or early 200s, and a new bridge at Pomeroy OH opened last year. And there was the new bridge below Parkersburg at Blennerhassett Island this year or last.

In all this, the replacement of the old Ohio River locks continued, with Smithland being the last one completed around 1980. In the 1980s, the new canal was added at Gallipolis, and there was significant work at the three dams on the Kanawha. 

There has been a lot of talk about improvements at Greenup. I know there has been work at the McAlpine Locks and Dam at Louisville, and the new Olmstead Locks and Dam remains under construction.

In the context of all that, maybe it's not surprising that one of the locks has had a significant failure such as the one at Markland. 

Markland lock gate goes missing

I've never heard of something as big as a gate leaf on an Ohio River lock falling off and going missing, but apparently that is what happened at the Markland Locks and Dam below Cincinnati.

One story on this is here. Another is here.

If the Corps of Engineers wasn't so security conscious nowadays, I would go down and try to get a photo of boat using sonar trying to find something so big. But you can't get near the locks nowadays unless you're on a boat.

More later, I hope.