Although Franklin County is seeking federal funding to replace the Bend Bridge, there are no plans to close it any time soon, according to Eva Gadcke, county road commissioner.
A story in the Jan. 30 issue of The Missourian with the headline Bend Bridge may be shut down caused concerns by some Pacific area residents and officials, primarily because of references to school buses crossing the bridge.
The article reported a discussion that took place at the Jan. 24 Franklin County Transportation Committee meeting.
Judy Wagner, MoDOT area engineer, said a lengthy discussion on the bridge took place.
“Everyone wants a new bridge,” Wagner said. “But if there was a recommendation to close the bridge, immediate action would be called for.”
MoDOT recently inspected the bridge and found no significant issues, she said.
“If anything that warranted closing the bridge had been discovered, action would have been taken immediately,” Wagner said.
“We did recommend closing two bridges in Jefferson County last year and the county responded immediately so the needed repairs could be made,” she said. “Any time we make a recommendation, both Franklin and Jefferson County respond in a timely manner.”
Franklin County plans to ask for federal funds to build a new $5 million bridge that would be realigned to come across the river just downriver from the existing bridge and enter Pacific on South Highway N. The realignment would remove the right angle entrance on the Pacific side of the bridge that plagues semi-drivers.
“We withheld all our requests in 2012 so that East-West Gateway would give us serious consideration for the project this year,” Gadcke said.
A new bridge would cost approximately $5 million. The county will seek $3.8 million in federal funds and the county will make up the rest.
“We very much need a new bridge,” Gadcke said. “We are following MoDOT guidelines on usage of the bridge. At present, MoDOT says the bridge is trustworthy to 17 tons and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.”
In the January inspection, MoDOT inspected the bridge from the ground with binoculars and from the driving surface, Wagner said. The bridge is scheduled for a fracture critical inspection in November.
“If this becomes a major concern, the county can hire someone to inspect the bridge more frequently if they would like to,” she said.
A written report on the findings of the engineers normally takes a couple of months, Wagner said.
“But we notify the county immediately if we find something,” she said. “Normally someone from the county is with our inspectors at the time of inspection.”
Visual inspections of the bridges are made every 24 months and fracture critical inspections every 24 months as well. MoDOT will hire consultants for the fracture critical inspection. The next one is scheduled for November 2013.
By the end of March, MoDOT will have all the bridges over 20 feet long in Franklin County inspected. At this time, the transportation department has inspected over 40 bridges and have not found any significant issues.
School Bus Concerns
Meramec Valley R-III School District Superintendent Randy George said the district relies on the weight limits determined by MoDOT to decide whether or not to send a school bus across the bridge.
“We currently have one bus that crosses the bridge six times a day,” George said. “The bridge is rated for 17 tons and our bus weighs less than 14 tons.”
The school district has an alternative route for the bus serving students south of the bridge.
“When the bridge limit was lowered while repairs were being made, we used the alternate route,” George said. “If safety for our bus ever becomes an issue, we’d take immediate action.”
The load rating is a measure of bridge live load capacity and is defined as the maximum permissible live load that can be placed on the bridge, according to Joe Feldman, Franklin County engineer.
“The bridge is rated based on moving traffic, stopped traffic, type of structure, condition of material, and traffic volume,” Feldman said. “The fact that this bridge is a single lane bridge and congestion may back up traffic across the bridge is factored into the rating.”
“The Franklin County commission would make the decision if the bridge were ever to be closed,” Gadcke said. “In the meantime we we’re following MoDOT’s guidelines.”