Ohio River bridge closed after being hit by pushboat and tow during rush hour

A barge being pushed downstream by a towboat struck a highway bridge over the Ohio River, causing seven barges to break free and forcing officials to close the bridge during rush hour.

The 113-foot Yvonne Conway was guiding 12 empty barges south at 1705 on March 18 when one of the barges struck the U.S. 41 Twin Bridges in Henderson, Ky., the U.S. Coast Guard reported. The bridges are located about a mile south of the Kentucky-Indiana line at mile 786 on the river.

Lt. j.g. Tucker Rodeffer, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley, said the barge hit a pier on the bridge that carries northbound traffic. The towboat and barges, owned by Crounse Corp. of Paducah, Ky., were en route to Mount Vernon, Ind., from Ghent, Ky.

Rodeffer said the pilot aboard Yvonne Conway notified the Coast Guard of the incident at 1716, with the Coast Guard informing Henderson County dispatchers seven minutes later. Kentucky transportation officials closed the bridges, which carry 36,000 vehicles a day between Henderson and Evansville, Ind.

Keith Todd, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the southbound lanes were reopened to traffic at about 1800 after inspectors were informed that the barge had struck only the northern bridge. The northbound lanes were reopened about 30 minutes later when inspectors determined that the bridge had not been damaged.

Yvonne Conway and the barge that struck the bridge sustained minor damage, Rodeffer said. The barges that broke free were recovered an unspecified distance downstream by the towboat and an assist vessel.

"The total damage was estimated to be approximately $6,000, and there was no damage to the (towboat) below the waterline," he said.

Emmett Neal, vice president of operations for Crounse, declined to comment on the damage or the circumstances that led to the incident. Rodeffer said the Coast Guard would not comment on the cause pending the completion of its investigation.

The bridges are located about a mile downstream from the confluence of the Green and Ohio rivers, a section of the waterway that Kentucky transportation officials say can be difficult to navigate.

"Towboat pilots indicate tricky currents in the area can sometimes cause problems for downbound tows on the Ohio River, particularly when the river is at or above flood stage," according to a news release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The National Weather Service reported that the river was 1.8 feet above flood stage in that area on the morning of the incident.

Todd said the U.S. 41 Twin Bridges are equipped with electronic sensors that are being used to study the effects of barge impacts on bridge piers and to alert inspectors when incidents occur. The impact on March 18 was not severe enough to prompt the system to issue an alert, he said.

Drug and alcohol tests conducted on Yvonne Conway's seven-member crew were negative, Rodeffer said. No injuries were reported.

By Professional Mariner Staff