(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Red Willow County commissioners told Don Lafferty Monday morning that Nebraska's Department of Roads closed the bridge -- "It wasn't our choice," said Commission Chairman Earl McNutt. Lafferty told commissioners that he's having trouble getting his farm equipment around the county's "Bridge Out" signs, and he's worried that heavy local or upstream rains would flood his alfalfa and wheat fields if the county replaces the bridge with a culvert or tube.
County roads superintendent Gary Dicenta said during a commissioners' meeting Monday that in the wake of the 13 deaths in the 35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minnesota in August 2008, Nebraska's DOR re-evaluated every bridge in the state, and found the Marion bridge lacking.
"It must be closed," Dicenta said, until the county repairs it, replaces it or removes it, and it is re-evaluated by the state. "The county has no choice," Dicenta said.
Olsson and Associates of Kearney, the consultant hired by the NDOR to inspect fracture critical bridges, indicates that welding the cracks is not an acceptable fix, although, Dicenta said, removing the old and rusty cracked beams and welding new beams in their places may be an option.
McNutt said that process would also involve cutting two rods that add stability to the length of the bridge. Repairs will require the prior authorization of the NDOR and could cost up to $5,000, Dicenta said. Rerating the bridge by the state will then cost the county $1,000. McNutt is concerned that more cracks will appear, putting the county in a position of continually repairing the old bridge.
Other options include:
* Building a replacement bridge with federal aid, a process that could take four to six years.
* Building a replacement bridge with county funds, funds that are then "matched" by the state in a fund designated for Red Willow County road projects. This process could take 12-18 months.
* Buying and installing a prefabricated bridge. This bridge would still have to meet minimum standards of the state's Board of Public Roads and Standards and meet 100-year flood plain requirements because the existing bridge is in a designated flood plain.
* Replacing the bridge with one or more tubes that must also meet flood plain requirements. Lafferty said he's worried that a tube won't be able to carry heavy rains, and that trash and timber collecting in the tube(s) will cause flood waters to spill over onto his wheat and alfalfa fields.
Dicenta told him, "We could build the greatest structure, and a flood would wash enough timber and trash to plug it up."
The county would be required to complete a hydrology study, at a cost of $1,400, to determine if a tube or tubes would be appropriate.
* County commissioner Steve Downer suggested taking the bridge out completely and creating a "low water crossing," a process that would also require a hydrology study and approval by NDOR.
Dicenta said that a "low water crossing" would involve installing a 24-30-inch tube in the bottom of the creek with a concrete pad on top on the road. "With a big rain, you just plan not to cross it," he said.
"We could close the road completely," McNutt said. "There are no homes on it and it's not a mail route or school route." The road is a minimally-used road, McNutt said, but not officially a "Minimum Maintenance Road" on the county's roads maps.
The Marion road would then become a "field road," Dicenta said. The existing road is a short-cut convenience, Dicenta admitted, "but is it needed by the county? No."
Lafferty cautioned commissioners that closing the road would increase truck traffic on the county's armor-coated road to the east.
McNutt said he will ask Husker Steel, a company that sells prefabricated bridges, if there's a repair for the bridge without completely dismantling it. "It's senseless to spend $80,000 to $100,000 on the bridge," McNutt said. But, Dicenta said, even putting in two to three tubes could cost $100,000. "Whatever happens," he said, "The county's looking at $100,000."
Commissioners made no decision at Monday's meeting. "The bridge remains closed," McNutt said, "until we get a professional to look at it."