Bridging the gap: Painting to end in fall

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

It’s been just a few days shy of a year since a routine facelift began on the Simeon Willis Bridge that connects Ironton to Ashland, Ky.’s 13th Street.

Work has been progressing as expected on the bridge, but eagle-eyed motorists may have detected an unusual pattern in the painting of the span.

While painters began on the section closest to Ashland, they then skipped the next section of the bridge, before returning to it recently.

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Mark Brown, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said that while it may seem random, there is a reason for the unconventional order.

“It has to do with temperature,” Brown said. “They work to get the towers complete before the warmest times of the summer. They use their time to make sure in late June and July they can be in areas where it isn’t as hot.”

During the hottest months, the high tower elevations can be not just uncomfortable but downright overwhelming. Brown said that the towers can occasionally reach 140 degrees.

But that’s just one consideration in the bridge-painting process, which Brown said can be a tough nut to crack.

“It takes intricate planning, it’s not something where you can run out there and slap on a coat of paint,” Brown said. “It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of effort on the part of the contractor.”

Brown said that the $4.2 million maintenance, undertaken by North Star Painting Company of Youngstown, was not to treat any structural problems, but simply to spruce up the look of the 21-year-old steel truss bridge.

It’s understandable that such a busy bridge would need a little TLC. According to the most recent data collected in 2002, the bridge supports more than 17,000 motorists every day.

“Definitely the bridge is a main artery from Kentucky to Ohio,” Brown said. “It carries quite a bit of traffic across the river.”

Since the project was begun in early May of 2005, lanes of traffic have been intermittently closed, with few effects on the traffic flow.

The bridge is supposed to be back up to full capacity when the painting project is completed this fall. But painters can’t relax too much: The bridge’s complement, the Ben Williamson Bridge on Ashland’s 12th Street, will get the same treatment, with a scheduled start in 2007.