Expansion joints on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge in Louisville, Ky., are again under scrutiny as a particularly problematic location awaits repairs.
Motorists on the nearly 60-year-old, 2,500-ft-long cantilever bridge across the Ohio River complained about noise and unusual motion at a finger expansion joint located near the Kentucky-Indiana border. After a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) inspection found multiple 17-in bolts at the joint to be loose, damaged or missing, the agency closed the bridge’s three southbound lanes in early June to prevent further damage. KYTC is awaiting delivery of replacement high-strength, pre-tension steel bolts, which the agency says have been delayed by industry-wide supply issues.
The issue comes less than two years after a $790,000 KYTC repair project replaced bolts at all four of the bridge’s finger joints, installed in 2016 during a $22- million retrofit performed as part of the multi-faceted $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges design-build program led by Walsh Construction Group.
According to KYTC inspection reports obtained by a Louisville television station, finger joint problems arose soon after the project was completed. The same joint causing the current closure was found in late 2016 to be misaligned and subject to movement. It also produced an unidentifiable noise when crossed by heavy vehicles.
In 2018, a 61-ft section of broken fingers in another joint was patched with asphalt. A subsequent KYTC inspection report stated that the finger joint issues are “due to errors in construction” such as inadequately tightened anchor bolts and voids in the underlying concrete. “Construction misalignments and exposed sheer studs are visible from the underside of the finger joints,” the report adds.
In written statements to the television station, KYTC said the concrete voids developed when the deck was poured have contributed to the broken and missing expansion joint bolts, though temperature changes and placement of the underlying frame may be causes as well. The agency added that the voids were not detectable through the metal decking, and that the problem does not appear to be present in all the bridge’s expansion joints. Walsh’s contract did not include a warranty, the agency added.
ENR is awaiting verification of the report information from KYTC. A Walsh spokesperson had no comment.