Despite an engineer’s evaluation that the Bend Road bridge in eastern Franklin County could be reopened if it’s restricted to a 12-ton load limit, the span remains closed.
Meanwhile, Pacific Alderman Steve Myers said people who want the bridge reopened are angry at the county commission, which voted to close the bridge in November.
Myers said Pacific residents and those who live across the Meramec River in unincorporated Franklin County are upset.
“I’m not going to give up hope,” said Myers, who noted that he is speaking as a private citizen, not for the city. “We are going to keep plowing along.”
An engineer with Horner & Shifrin, a firm that inspected the county-owned bridge, told The Missourian Friday that it could be reopened without any repairs if a load limit of 12 tons was enforced.
The engineer, Tom Lohman, would not comment on whether he thinks the county is being too cautious by keeping the bridge closed even though the engineering firm says the structure could be reopened at 12 tons. County officials know a lot more about the issue to make the decision, he said.
However, Lohman acknowledged that the county did have some concerns that trucks over 12 tons would use it if it were reopened in its current state. He said the county is worried about how to enforce a 12-ton limit.
The load limit could be increased to 17 tons if a cracked eyebar is repaired, Lohman said. The engineering firm is working on a cost estimate for this repair. The estimate may be available next week.
‘Cost of a Human Life’
Earlier this week it looked as though there was a strong possibility that the county-owned bridge could be reopened soon.
But since then that optimism has taken a nosedive.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the county is just trying to protect itself against liability in case the approximately 100-year-old bridge collapsed.
Most importantly, Griesheimer said, the county wants to do what is safe for the residents.
“We’re talking about the cost of a human life,” Griesheimer said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Myers agreed that nobody wants a bridge that is unsafe. But he pointed out that an engineer said the bridge would be safe in its current state if the 12-ton limit was followed.
A December report from Horner & Shifrin states that the recommendation was for the county to lower the load rating on the bridge to 12 tons. But instead the county decided to close the bridge.
“Generally, the structure is in fair condition for its age,” the engineering report states.
County highway department officials have said the Missouri Department of Transportation recommended that the bridge either be closed or repaired. It is unclear if the recommendation to close the bridge was based on a 17-ton or 12-ton weight limit, or both.
Griesheimer said the county would be glad to transfer liability to someone else who wants to take responsibility for the bridge. It is easy for people to criticize the county for closing the bridge when no one wants to take responsibility for the liability, he said.
The county is not going to put lives in jeopardy just because there is political pressure to reopen the bridge, Griesheimer asserted.
Myers said he knows of people on the other side of the river from Pacific who are “fuming.”
“I don’t want to stir this hornets nest; it’s already stirred,” Myers said.
People who use the bridge are “tremendously inconvenienced” by having to take a detour, Myers noted. This matter should have been settled 10 years ago, he said.
Myers said it is County Counselor Mark Vincent who is afraid of liability associated with the bridge.
Myers added that “it’s not good enough” for Vincent unless the engineering firm takes all of the liability for the bridge.
“He is demanding that there be additional wording in the contract that releases Franklin County from any and all liability,” Myers said.
The Missourian attempted to get a response from Vincent on the bridge issue, but he said, “I don’t want to comment. I have nothing to say about it.”
Vincent added that a Missourian reporter was not in attendance at a meeting on the bridge this week when he made statements on the issue.
Vincent said it was a very important meeting and the reporter chose to miss it. That is the reporter’s problem, not his, Vincent asserted.
The county’s decision to close the bridge went over and above the engineering firm’s recommendation because of the county attorney’s liability concerns, Myers noted. Vincent is demanding this even though an engineer’s seal goes on any structure, Myers added.
“I want the county and city to work together,” Myers said.
There are about 150 homes affected directly by the bridge closure, Myers said, adding that they now have to spend more on fuel to take the long way around on Highways N and O.
The bridge’s closure also hurts Pacific businesses, he said. People across the bridge have told him that they no longer eat at Pacific restaurants or buy gas in the city since the bridge closed.
“It has definitely made an economic impact,” Myers said. “It can only be bad.”
Myers agreed that no one can be too cautious when it comes to safety. But when an engineer says the bridge is safe and then the county is still unwilling to reopen the bridge, then it may be time to get another engineer’s opinion, Myers said.
He added that the engineer said that other problems with the bridge are cosmetic and are not urgent repairs.
Lohman said this week that the engineering firm could assume liability if a bridge collapse happened after repairs were made, according to Griesheimer. But now the firm says it cannot take on that liability, Griesheimer said.
Lohman agreed. “I probably spoke before I should have on that,” he said.
He said the firm would stand behind the 17-ton limit but could not provide the guarantee that the county appears to be seeking.
This throws everything up in the air when it comes to the possibility of getting the bridge reopened. Earlier this week, it looked as though the bridge might reopen soon, but now things have fallen apart, Griesheimer said.
On Thursday, the county was awaiting word from its liability insurance carrier, MOPERM, to see if it would cover the county in the event of a bridge collapse.
If the county’s insurance company won’t cover the county, the prospect of getting the bridge reopened looks unlikely.
That means the residents who used the bridge would have to wait until a new bridge is built.
Is Reopening Still Possible?
Griesheimer said it is still possible that the county could go out for bids next week to fix the bridge. He noted that the costs of engineering and repairs would be split 50/50 between the county and city of Pacific.
Griesheimer said if the bridge does reopen, it would likely be for normal cars and trucks and possibly ambulances. But heavy trucks and equipment would not be allowed, he said.
The cars and trucks that did cross would do so at their own risk, Griesheimer added.
Earlier this week, Griesheimer expressed optimism that the repairs could be made inexpensively.
County officials plan to apply to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in February for a federal grant to replace the bridge. If approved, the county would cover 20 percent of the $4.3 million construction cost, and federal funds would cover the other 80 percent. With engineering, design and other costs, the total bridge replacement project may cost about $5 million.
Even if the county is approved for the funding it could still be a couple of years before a new bridge is built.