By Hope S. Philbrick
Getting to historic Paducah from I-65 was a relatively straight six-mile shot down a four-lane road that passed by various businesses commonly seen in small towns across America. ‘Picturesque’ isn’t quite the word for what you’ll see until you reach the historic riverfront…but then get your cameras ready.
When ready to leave, I turned my GPS back on. I expected to be return to the Interstate the same way that I’d come in, but was instead routed north. I figured, correctly, that I’d catch up with I-65 some miles up the way, which might shave a few hundred feet off the total drive: GPS systems seem to have frugality programmed in.
When you cross the Ohio River on I-65, which I’ve done more times than I can remember, the cement surface seamlessly connects the bridge and roadway. It would be possible to cross that bridge without really thinking about the fact that you’re over water.
Via US 45 the route passes through an industrial area and then rising up over the cornfields a blue bridge is visible in the distance. Metal, narrow and with sweeping archways, I thought it might be exclusively for trains.
And then I started seeing warning signs that seemed to SCREAM cautions: Do not exceed 25 mph on bridge. Do not pass while on bridge. No trucks on bridge.
There was no place to turn around.
Approaching the bridge from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, the bridge is a breathtaking sight. It’s got strong architectural lines, stands tall above the Ohio River, is bright blue and seems to go on forever. It’s a big, long bridge.
It’s also the scariest bridge that I’ve ever driven across in my life.
The bridge that I now know is called the Brookport Bridge is so narrow that you cannot move over to give a driver coming at you from the other direction any additional space. The bridge is metal—including the driving surface, which looks like strips of serrated steel welded together with inches of space between each slat so you can see straight down into the river. When crossing, it sounds like the bridge is chewing up your tires. You’re very aware that you’re on a bridge over water, and that the bridge is manmade, old and fallible.
I drove 25 mph, the clearly posted speed limit. Despite the fact that speed limit and “Do Not Pass” signs are posted frequently, other drivers passed me at high speeds. That didn’t make the trip across more pleasant. Yes, it would be nice to get off the bridge as soon as possible, but getting off safely is the ultimate goal. Right?
Throughout the drive—it felt like the longest bridge ever!—I couldn’t help but think about this 20/20 report.
And this report.
Here’s a fact that offers no comfort to a road tripper: “According to the Federal Highway Administration, 67,000 bridges need serious maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.”
At a hotel later that night, I did some online research and learned the Brookport Bridge was built in 1929. It is currently rated as “functionally obsolete,” which I guess we should all feel relieved to learn is different from “structurally deficient.”
Online comments make it clear that some folks love the Brookport Bridge and others hate it. I plan to never drive over it again.
I’m not a motorcycle driver, but while on the bridge I figured it would be more enjoyable to cross it on a motorcycle since you’d at least have elbow room. So I asked The Travelin’ Gringo what he thought about the bridge. “No, I’ve never driven over that bridge,” he said. “Looking at the photos, it would probably be a nightmare. That open metal grate surface is very disorienting on a motorcycle—the bike feels like it’s shimmying as you drive over it—it’s a weird feeling.”
The bridge looks pretty from the Kentucky side, the view in most photos posted online.
Getting across the bridge does feel like an accomplishment.
“Welcome to Illinois,” indeed. The sign should read, “Congratulations. You survived.”
From the Illinois side you can’t see much of the bridge, and not only because you’re busy kissing the ground.
Those poor suckers who approach from Brookport, Illinois have no idea what they’re in for.
Bottom Line: On any road trip, you may want to map out your drive before leaving home, instead of trusting your GPS.
Here’s some great information about the Brookport Bridge.
This YouTube video makes crossing Brookport Bridge look very tame compared to the true experience.
There are many more You Tube videos about Brookport Bridge, including one posted by some idiot who filmed while driving over it in a Porsche at 70 mph. Let’s hope he gets arrested for speeding based on the evidence he himself has posted online.
@21plusTravel Tip: Don’t be an idiot.
-Photos courtesy city-data.com