Leader Blues

Monday, August 06, 2007

TOP STORY >>Repairs needed on local bridges

Leader senior staff writer

“Safe and closed” are the two categories of bridges and overpasses in Arkansas, said state Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Glenn Bolick Thursday in the wake of the Mississippi River bridge collapse at Minneapolis. “We have zero unsafe bridges,” he said.

In Arkansas, 11 similar bridges have designs similar to the one that collapsed in Minneapolis—none of them close to that size or carrying the traffic the Minneapolis bridge did and none over major bodies of water, according to Randy Ort of the state Highway and Transportation Department.

Locally, the Broadway Bridge over the Arkansas River is old, functionally obsolete and showing signs of wear and deterioration, but is structurally sound, Ort said. Inspectors also have found cracks in some steel under the I-440 bridge over the Arkansas River but it also is structurally safe, he said.

“The sufficiency rating is a management tool that helps us identify which bridges are eligible for federal bridge replacement funds,” according to Ort. “It is not an indicator of the structural integrity of the bridge. It considers the condition, age, design and use of the bridge.

Among Pulaski and Lonoke county structures, only the Hwy. 67/167 overpass at Main Street in Jacksonville is “functionally obsolete,” said Bolick, but nonetheless, it’s safe.

“It doesn’t meet today’s design standards,” Bolick said. He said it should be wider, have wider shoulders and better-designed guard rails on the sides, but no changes are planned until that entire section of the highway is widened.

That overpass is among roughly 15 percent of bridges and overpasses in the state are considered functionally obsolete, while another 8 percent are considered structurally deficient, usually meaning they require signs telling truckers what the safe weight load is—less than the standard 80,000 pounds, he said.

Nearly 1,000 bridges in Arkansas are rated structurally deficient, the same federal designation given to a Minnesota bridge that collapsed during rush-hour traffic, Arkansas highway officials said Thursday. But that doesn’t mean any of the state’s deficient bridges must be closed, according to Bolick.

Twenty-nine state-owned bridges and structures in Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties were listed as structurally deficient as of Thursday.

Bridges in White County are safe as long as the posted weight limits are followed, says Joe Trantham, the District 5 construction engineer for the Highway Department, which inspects every bridge in the county at least every two years.
Trantham says the bridges are in various states of repair depending on age and the materials used to build them, but none are in danger of collapsing unless someone exceeds the weight limit.

“The old wood bridges used to give us problems,” said Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman. “We only have one wood bridge left—a 120-foot span over Bayou Meto between Lonoke and Prairie County on Durham Road northeast of Humnoke. I’d like it out, but it probably doesn’t see six cars a day.”

He said the state Highway Department inspects all roads in bridges in the county.

“There used to be some dangerous bridges,” said long-time Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, but they’ve been “all replaced or repaired. There are some little issue here we need to take care of.”

Jacksonville City Administrator Jay Whisker said all city bridges are “in good working order.” He said one bridge — a concrete slab over two steel culverts — needed the culverts replaced. Usually an inspection reveals nothing more than the need to replace stolen signs, Whisker said.

White County has 23 bridges that have been classified as functionally deficient, which means weight-limit signs are supposed to be posted. The Highway Department furnishes the signs and the county or (depending upon the location) the city is responsible for putting them up.

The Highway Department also tells the county judges and mayors what repairs need to be made, Trantham said. If a bridge is becoming dangerous, the Highway Department will make more frequent inspections, Trantham said. Although the Highway Department has no enforcement authority, it can withhold state money if repairs aren’t made and weight-limit signs aren’t installed.

About four years ago, a truck carrying building materials and weighing more than the posted 40-ton weight limit broke through a bridge off El Paso Road, he said. Not only was it illegal for the truck to cross the bridge, the company that owned the truck had to pay to rebuild it, he said.

To avoid being caught exceeding the weight limit, some haulers simply pull the weight-limit signs out of the ground and throw them to the side, he said.

“That way they can say they didn’t see any sign,” Trantham said. “You wouldn’t believe how big a problem it is.”

“If any information is found that warrants a review of inspection procedures in our state, my office will work together with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to take necessary steps,” Gov. Mike Beebe announced Thursday.
Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.