Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineers have been evaluating river level projections from the National Weather Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers through the day.
Based on records from the Great Flood of 2011 and other historic flood events, KYTC personnel have a general indication of river levels that force the closure of various highways across the region.
At this time the most significant closure of a main highway is expected to be US 51 at two locations in Ballard County. The following information is based on the river forecast update as of 8:00 p.m., CST, tonight.
At about 53.5 ft. on the Ohio River Gauge at Cairo, floodwaters normally cover US 51 near the Ballard-Carlisle County line south of Wickliffe. US 51 closes at this site at 54.7 ft. Based on the latest river forecast, engineers anticipate that closure occurring sometime during the overnight hours of Wednesday, December 30th.
At about 54.5 ft. on the Ohio River Gauge at Cairo, floodwaters normally cover US 51 near the 6 mile marker along the levee between Wickliffe and the US 51/US 60/US 62 Ohio River “Cairo” Bridge. US 51 is required to close at this site at about 55.4 ft. Based on the latest river forecast, engineers anticipate the river exceeding that level around Noon on New Year’s Eve, Thursday, December 31st.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet personnel will be closely monitoring these sites as floodwaters continue to rise. As floodwaters cover the roadway, crews will attempt to maintain one lane traffic as long as practical with alternating flow controlled by flaggers. When floodwaters exceed a point where traffic can be safely maintained, the roadway will be closed and barricaded.
The estimated time of closure projections are a “best guess” and are subject to change due to a variety of weather and river conditions. Strong currents and the inability of motorists to see the roadway during darkness will also be among safety considerations for halting traffic.
When floodwaters cross US 51 North of Wickliffe access to the Ohio River Bridge connecting Kentucky and Illinois is blocked. Approximately 5,500 vehicles cross the Ohio River each day. About 35 percent of that is interstate truck traffic moving goods between Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri.
Once floodwaters force US 51 to close, motorists will be facing about an 80 mile detour thorough Southern Illinois via the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge between Paducah and Metropolis.
Motorists are advised to plan ahead and start considering alternate travel routes. Commuters should consider staying with friends or family closer to their work site. Employers are encouraged to consider providing alternate work schedules or other arrangements that can assist workers who face this extended 90 minute detour.
KYTC engineers will be working with law enforcement and emergency management agencies to assure that signs and barricades remain in place to maintain safety of the public once floodwaters cover the roadway at these locations. There will also be an ongoing evaluation of river levels to help provide advance notice of other flood trouble spots that might force highways to close.
Police agencies are already assisting transportation personnel by issuing citations to those who remove barricades and signage from flooded highways. This will become more critical as floodwaters move into additional areas and cover more roadways.
On Wednesday, KYTC engineers will recalculate these projections for US 51 and provide an update, if appropriate.