Kennedy Bridge July 22 2021

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Three lanes of the Kennedy Bridge reopened Wednesday afternoon after repairs to bolts that hold together an expansion joint on the I-65 roadway. 

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet tweeted around 1:40 p.m. that the lane closures had ended.

The work involved stabilizing a section where about six bolts had either sheared off or come loose, said Matt Bullock, chief engineer for the cabinet's Department of Highways office in Louisville.

Crews added the new bolts during an hours-long operation that led to traffic backups that stretched for about six miles into southern Indiana. The Kennedy carries southbound traffic over the Ohio River; the companion Lincoln Bridge handles I-65 North. 

Parts of the Kennedy Bridge previously were shut down during the summer after inspectors found five missing bolts at the joint, which resembles interlocking fingers near the Indiana state line. It’s one of four joints that connect the bridge deck’s concrete slabs, letting the structure expand and contract.

The Transportation Cabinet then ordered the installation of about 100 bolts to secure the joint, completing that work by early September.  

Because the summer repair plan "kind of improvised a little bit," it wasn't clear if that approach was a short-term or long-term fix, Bullock said. But he made clear that state officials don't plan to repeat Wednesday's work every few months. 

"We probably are going to be looking some time in the future at a more invasive joint replacement if this continues in a fashion where we have bolts becoming loose," he said. 

Bullock said one bolt was discovered sheared off during a routine inspection of the bridge "within the last month or two," while another one was found broken Wednesday morning as the repairs began. 

The issues with the joint don't affect the bridge's structural integrity, but they could cause damage to vehicles as they cross an uneven section of the deck, or roadway.

The Kennedy bridge's deck -- including the expansion joints -- was replaced as part of a $22 million overhaul in 2016 during the Ohio River Bridges Project. 

WDRB News reported in July that state inspection reports noted “errors in construction” at the expansion joint shortly after the 2016 work.

The Transportation Cabinet has said air pockets, or voids, were created when the concrete deck was poured, although they couldn't be detected. It believes the voids have contributed to the joint's broken or missing bolts.

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