Truck traffic diverted from eastbound I-275 Bridge in Northern KY

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) - Inspectors discovered a crack in the eastbound Interstate 275 bridge Wednesday in northern Kentucky, prompting the state Transportation Cabinet to ban truck traffic from the span, a spokesman said.

Eastbound traffic on the 29-year-old Combs-Hehl Bridge crosses the Ohio River at Highland Heights and enters Ohio about five miles east of Cincinnati.

Inspectors found the crack in a half-inch-thick steel splice plate, a piece of metal used to splice together two long pieces of steel, Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said.

Banning trucks from the eastbound bridge of the twin bridges will reduce tension on the structure by about 50 percent at any location, Wolfe said. Trucks were allowed to continue traveling on the westbound bridge.

"The truck ban is a conservative and precautionary step," Wolfe said. "We believe the bridge to be safe to travel otherwise, or else it would be closed."

He said it wasn't known how long the measure would be in effect, although it could be months before the plate is replaced. The discovery came during a four-week period during which traffic was reduced from three lanes to two while testing and a regularly scheduled, biennial inspection are under way.

Oversize and overweight loads were temporarily prohibited on the bridges for the work. The cabinet was using variable message boards to notify truck drivers of the ban. Faulty steel was discovered recently in three splice plates on the westbound bridge.

Engineers from the Kentucky and Ohio transportation agencies and the Federal Highway Administration recommended that the steel in the bridges be tested for durability. Contractors from Louisville have been hired to conduct those tests.

Cracks were found during a winter 2006 inspection and monitored until January 2008, when engineers recommended replacement of those plates. That work was completed on June 1.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)