One year ago, life returned to the normal in the area known as the Lakeland. With the sound of vehicle engines from both the Marshall County and Trigg County sides, the venerable Eggners Ferry Bridge returned to its duty of supplying a route over Kentucky Lake between those counties. This came just 121 days after the massive cargo ship The Delta Mariner tore a 322-foot span away from the bridge when it crashed into it on the night of Jan. 26, 2012.
That night could have easily ended in tragedy.
“When I got the call that night I just knew we were going to have fatalities, and we didn’t,” remembered Keith Todd, public information officer for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Districts One and Two, who said two people were most responsible for everyone remaining safe that night.
One was a Kentucky State Police trooper who blocked traffic from the Marshall County side. The other was a Trigg countian named Robert Parker, who Todd was able to personally thank for his actions one year ago today.
“That was an emotional day, but Robert was there and I got the chance to hug his neck to thank him for what he did. We made sure his truck was first in line to cross from that side of the bridge too.”
The path to a year ago today was nothing short of remarkable. The 322-foot gape was closed by a marvel of engineering, a retrofitted replacement span that was constructed at the Lyon County Port Authority near Eddyville, transported on a barge to Eggners Ferry, then lifted into place by cranes.
It was an idea that originated from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005 in which bridges damaged by the storm were repaired in as little as six months.
“Very quickly, Kentucky Transportation Commissioner Mike Hancock began sending out feelers saying, ‘Here is what we would like to do,’ and we had three or four companies step up immediately to say they wanted to be part of it,” remembered Todd.
In the end, it would be a Kentucky company - Hall Contracting of Louisville - that was rewarded the job and would allow Gov. Steve Beshear to keep a promise he made in March during a press conference at Kenlake State Resort Park in Aurora that the bridge would be restored by the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The public itself was able to participate in the celebration a year ago, dubbed Bridge Day, as thousands of people came by foot, bicycle and motorcycle to examine the replacement span up close, some 60-plus feet above the lake waters, on a nearly perfect, sunny day.
It provided a chance for memories to stir, like those of Murray’s Gilbert Sears, who first crossed the bridge in 1955 on his way to visit the campus of Murray State University as a prospective student. He has just gotten home from a stint in the Air Force, and bought a car to take the trip from his hometown of Somerset to Murray.
“And that’s not the end of the story. I met a girl the first night I was over here in Murray - she was from Graves County - and I ended up marrying her,” he said.
Now, Beshear has offered another goal, that a replacement structure, planned to have four lanes in a tied-arch form, be built by the time he leaves office in 2016. Work on what is called the Lagoon Bridge, which will serve as an approach to the main bridge, officially started in early May.