- The highest operational bridge in Kentucky is the High Bridge, over the Kentucky River.
- The High Bridge stands 275 feet above the river surface.
- The Pond Creek Bridge will take its place as the tallest bridge in Kentucky when it is completed in 2024.
Kentucky is a state with its eastern half in the Appalachian Mountains. From there, the terrain flows south of the Ohio River to the Mississippi River on its western border. The lands covered by that terrain have hills, valleys, rivers, streams, and lakes. Consequently, there are several bridges throughout the state, from simple footbridges to massive railroad trestles. So, what is the highest bridge in Kentucky still in use?
The Highest Bridge in Kentucky
When considering the highest bridge, we will not consider bridges that are no longer operating, perhaps being converted to bungee towers. Neither are we considering bridges that may not be finished yet. We will look at those briefly but then focus on the tallest bridge still being used.
Tallest Obsolete Bridge
For the longest time, from 1889 to 1985, Young’s High Bridge was the tallest bridge in Kentucky. It was part of a rail line from Lexington to Lawrenceburg, initially carrying passenger and freight trains, then transitioning to freight only. A cantilever bridge, it stands 283 feet above the waters of the Kentucky River below. A corporation purchased the bridge in 2013 to build a platform for bungee jumping operated by Vertigo Bungee. The bridge is located near Tyrone, KY.
Bridge Under Construction
In 2024, the title of the highest bridge in Kentucky will likely go to the Pond Creek Bridge, currently under construction in Pike County near Draffin. The bridge is part of a large project to reconstruct, renovate, and expand US 460, which crosses into Virginia. Once the bridge is complete, it will stand 324 feet tall.
Tallest Operational Bridge
So, the highest bridge in Kentucky is the High Bridge, which also crosses the Kentucky River. It is a railroad bridge that connects Lexington and Danville. It is 275 feet from the bridge to the Kentucky waters below.
History of the High Bridge
Built in 1879, the High Bridge was the first cantilever-style bridge in the United States. The Lexington & Danville Railroad initially contacted renowned civil engineer John Roebling to design a suspension bridge across the Kentucky River, but the project ran out of money. Later, the Cincinnati Southern Railway accepted a plan by C. Shaler Smith to create a cantilever bridge using the stone towers left behind after the cancellation of the suspension bridge project. The project was finished in 1877 but not dedicated until 1879. William Tecumseh Sherman and President Rutherford B. Hayes, among others, attended the dedication ceremony.
At its construction, the bridge was North America’s tallest bridge spanning a navigable waterway. It was also the tallest railway bridge in the world. 1970 saw the last passenger train cross the bridge, but it continues to be used by freight trains.
Where Can You Find the High Bridge?
The High Bridge crosses the Kentucky River roughly 14 miles southwest of Lexington, just outside Shakertown.
The north and south forks of the Kentucky River join in Eastern Kentucky to form the Kentucky River proper just south of Beattyville. The river then wanders roughly northwest from the coal-producing regions of Kentucky until it enters the Ohio River as a tributary at Carrollton, KY. The confluence of these rivers puts Carrollton at repeated risk for flooding. Flooding has long been a feature of the Kentucky River along its path. The High Bridge sits well above these waters and remains unaffected.
Wildlife Around the High Bridge
The Kentucky River Watershed is host to a diverse animal population. The fish population is incredibly diverse, with over 115 native species. Wildlife restoration projects have reintroduced river otters and peregrine falcons. What follows is a sampling of species identified within the region of the bridge.
- Largemouth Bass: This is a popular, carnivorous game fish known for its fighting ability. It is native to North America.
- Crappie: This small freshwater fish is called a “panfish” because it can easily fit in a frying pan.
- Bluegill: The bluegill is a freshwater panfish that can swim backward! It lives in streams, lakes, and ponds.
- Grouse: This stocky bird’s feathers provide excellent camouflage for its wooded and grassland habitats. It is hunted for sport and is closely related to turkeys and chickens.
- Peregrine Falcon: Just about every continent has a population of peregrine falcons. It is known for its strength, ferocity, and speed. It was recently reintroduced to the Kentucky River Watershed.
- Wild Turkey: A large North American ground bird, the wild turkey likes forested areas with clearings for foraging. Flocks of them can roost in trees.
- White-Tailed Deer: White-tailed deer are small deer native to the Americas, found from Canada to Bolivia. They are also known as Virginia deer and are popular game animals.
- River Otter: River otters were recently reintroduced to the Kentucky River Watershed. These playful mammals play a role in indicating whether an environment is healthy or not.
- American Beaver: This well-known rodent manipulates its environment by constructing dams. These generally play a helpful role in the beaver’s surrounding environment.
- Eastern Copperhead: Copperheads are pit vipers native to the eastern portion of North America. Their venom is not as deadly as that of other pit vipers, but they are responsible for more snake bites than any other venomous snake in the U.S.
- Red-Eared Slider: This is the turtle people keep as a pet. Many have escaped and populated lakes, ponds, and rivers nearly everywhere.
- Common Snapping Turtle: Snapping turtles are large turtles that live solitary lives and hunt at night. They can be aggressive with their hooked beaks and serpentine necks.
- Hellbender: Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in the U.S. Various carnivorous fish, such as bass, prey upon them, and they prey upon insects and other small animals. When they begin to disappear, it can indicate that the waters are becoming polluted.
- Common Mudpuppy: Mudpuppies are large salamanders that never leave their larval stage. They keep gills for their entire lives and must remain in the water.
- American Toad: The wart-covered American toad has a heavy body and short legs. Their skin secretes a toxic substance that irritates predators.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock.com
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