Bridge Building

Traylor Bros. pursues construction of a new Baltimore span

River communities across the country took notice on March 26 when a malfunctioning cargo ship, the Dali, struck a support column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, causing the bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River below. Six construction workers were killed.

Traylor Bros. Inc. of Evansville is pursuing construction of a new bridge as part of the same partnership that will eventually build the new Interstate 69 bridge connecting Evansville and Henderson, Kentucky.

“It is likely that they will want to build a higher bridge that accommodates the largest ships in the world,” says Chris Traylor, co-president of Traylor Bros., a 78-year-old civil construction company specializing in bridges and marine infrastructure. Traylor Bros. has built more than 135 bridges in multiple U.S. states — two nearby are the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge in Saint Louis, Missouri, and the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Chris Traylor. PHOTO PROVIDED BY SOURCE

Maryland transportation officials anticipate awarding a con- tract to rebuild the bridge in July.

Over the last several years, older bridges across the country have been modified “to improve their ability to handle larger ships, including with respect to impacts,” Traylor says. He cites the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Saint Petersburg, Florida, as an example: Reinforced concrete barriers were placed around that bridge’s piers as added protection.

By comparison, the former Key Bridge – a continuous steel truss span that opened in 1977 and was 185 feet high – had no such barriers on its piers. The Dali, bound for Sri Lanka, struck the bridge carrying 4,700 metal shipping containers.

When empty, the vessel weighs 95,000 tons.

Traylor says other steps may be taken to protect bridges. “Engineers have also raised entire bridges to allow larger ships to pass under them,” he says, such as the Bayonne Bridge in the New York City area.

The Evansville region, of course, has relied heavily for decades on the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Twin Bridges over the Ohio River. The northbound span opened on the Fourth of July in 1932; the southbound bridge dates to December 1965.

Once the new I-69 crossing is in use, current plans call for the southbound U.S. 41 span to close and the northbound bridge to remain open with two-way traffic. That’s now projected to occur in 2031, although Kentucky and Indiana officials want to expedite construction of the I-69 bridge.

The recently collapsed Key Bridge regularly saw large cargo ships traveling in and out of the Port of Baltimore. Traylor says those types of vessels don’t pass under the U.S. 41 bridges serving Evansville and Henderson, although “it is hard to compare one bridge to another with regard to vessel impact risks or consequences.”

“Each bridge is unique for its location and intended purpose,” he says.

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