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$13 million in bridge work needed

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The most recent inspection of the county's bridges revealed 18 are in need of replacement or repair, a series of projects that will cost the county upwards of $13 million over the next eight years.

Out of the 189 county bridges inspected, the federally-mandated inspection reported eight bridges need to be replaced, eight need major repairs and two need deck replacements.

Grant County Highway Supervisor David White said the bridges that need to be replaced are not safety hazards, at least not yet – rather, they were built with outdated materials and technology.

“They're still safe, (the report is) just saying that they're obsolete and they need so many things updated that it's cheaper to replace the whole bridge,” White said.

Three of the 18 bridges are on White's list of projects he hopes to tackle in the next year: a bridge on County Road 700 East, the bridge on Pennsylvania Street near the Estates of Serenity cemetery and another on Washington Street just south of the YMCA.

The inspections, conducted by United Surveying, Inc. (USI) Consultants, gave each bridge a sufficiency rating out of 100 – anything below 20 would be unsafe to drive on. The lowest-rated bridge in the county was the bridge on 700 East, which receieved a rating of 42, White said.

The 700 East bridge is slated for replacement this year. The County Commissioners approved a contract with United Consulting for $148,000 to do design work for the bridge as well as construction inspections at their July 2 meeting.

White expects to be able to replace the bridge at a cost of between $600,000 and $700,000.

The Pennsylvania Street bridge has required major repairs for years, repairs that White said will cost $2-3 million.

The county applied for federal aid for the bridge two years ago, but the project was not selected. White hopes to apply again this year if there's a call for federal aid projects, and to prepare, the county has approved a $200,000 design contract for the repairs.

“What we're doing is were paying up front so that we're basically shovel-ready, and then should we be able to get the big federal money, we go,” Commissioner Mark Bardsley said at the July 2 meeting.

The project's completion will be dependent on whether the county can find outside funding, either through federal aid or a Community Crossing grant.

The third project slated for the coming year is replacing the deck of the Washington Street bridge over the Mississinewa River.

Designers are still looking at exactly how the deck will be replaced or repaired, but White expects the project to cost $1 million.

Rob Coop, bridge inspection manager for USI Consultants, said he expects the 18 bridge projects identified by the inspection to cost $13 million, but White said Coop's estimate sounded low to him.

“With the economy the way it is, in the last two or three years all my bids have been usually five to 10 percent more than what they estimated,” White said.

The inspector's report also sets priorities for which of the 18 bridges ought to be done first and schedules out the projects over the next eight years.

With the County Council heading into budget season, White said he is fairly confident his department's budget, including plans for the three bridge repairs, will be approved this year, but something will need to change for the county to continue to have the means to fund all the necessary repairs laid out by the inspectors.

Though the inspection didn't reveal any bridges in immediate danger, daily wear and tear combined with obsolete construction practices means updating the bridges is of high importance to White.

“You got school buses and everything else running over them, and some of our bridges probably have 5,000 cars a day. There's high volume traffic on some of them,” White said.

The next federally-mandated inspection of county bridges will be in two years.