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Sudden Sagging Closes WI Bridge

Monday, September 30, 2013

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Wisconsin officials have closed a four-lane state bridge indefinitely after a 400-foot section of the structure abruptly dropped about two feet overnight.

Police shut down the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge in Green Bay about 5:30 a.m. CT Wednesday (Sept. 25), less than an hour after drivers started calling 911 to report that a long stretch of the structure was sagging across all lanes. Officials later determined that a bridge pier had settled on the eastern side of the bridge.

On Friday (Sept. 27), Gov. Scott Walker signed a Declaration of Emergency for the bridge, making it eligible for federal emergency relief funds to make necessary repairs.

The bridge carries Interstate 43 over the Fox River south of its mouth into Lake Michigan. An average of 40,000 vehicles use the bridge each day.

'Something Not Quite Right'

Local 911 lines lit up with calls from drivers beginning about 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, authorities said.

Leo Frigo Bridge
WisDOT / Facebook

WisDOT posted this photo of the sagging section of the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge. Drivers called 911 about the bridge; one said the wheels on his rig fell off.

"That bridge is sagging in the center," one motorist told the operator.

"I came over with a tractor trailer and, I mean, she jumped enough that the wheels on the tractor came off," the driver said. "I think you probably should get somebody out there. ... [T]here seems to be something not quite right there."

Shortly after the calls began, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation bridge inspector arrived on the scene and "quickly determined a 400-foot span was sagging by almost two feet across all four lanes of the structure," the agency stated.

Indefinite Closure

Now regional, federal and state bridge experts are conducting an investigation to determine the extent of the problem.

Each pier on the bridge is supported by vertical steel pylons that extend 100 feet underground, The Sheboygan Press reported. Engineers are using lasers to measure the pier every six hours, according to JSOnline.com.

One side of the support pillar, identified as Pier 22, sank 22 inches; the other side sank 27 inches.

Only after the initial investigation is complete can the agency determine how long the bridge will be closed.

"It could be months. It could be a year," said WisDOT spokesman Kim Rudat.

Calls to 911 about the bridge can be heard in this video, posted by the Green Bay Press Gazette.

"As of this morning, we haven't detected any further movement in Pier 22 or in the adjacent piers," Rudat said at a press conference Thursday (Sept. 26).

A state inspection team with a specialized "snooper" vehicle and equipment is in Green Bay to assist with the investigation. Additionally, WisDOT is collecting all historical information about the structure—from initial construction through the last inspection—and developing a monitoring program to check other piers for settlement.

"It will be several days before we have answers and a corrective plan of action," WisDOT said.

'Committed to Fixing this Bridge'

The federal emergency funds sought by Walker's declaration Friday are administered by the Federal Highway Administration and would reimburse all costs for the first 180 days of the project.

"Our number-one objective is public safety," Walker said in a press release. "The Leo Frigo Bridge is a critical transportation link for motorists and commerce in Brown County and the state of Wisconsin, and we are committed to fixing this bridge in a timely and responsible manner."

deficient bridges
John Begalke / Flickr

"It could be months. It could be a year," WisDOT told the media about the bridge re-opening. The structure carries about 40,000 vehicles each day over Interstate 43.

Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb added, "We are mobilizing state and federal resources to quickly assess the bridge. The bridge will remain closed, however, while our engineers and regional bridge experts develop a plan for the necessary repairs."

About the Bridge

The Leo Frigo bridge was constructed in 1980, with repairs on the superstructure completed in 1988. The bridge was last inspected in October 2012 and is not on the list of 60 deficient bridges in the state, according to WisDOT.

In 2012 and 2013, the bridge underwent asphalt, joint and pin replacement.

Formerly called the Tower Drive Bridge, the structure was renamed the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge in 2002 in recognition of a Green Bay civic and philanthropic leader whose legacy includes one of the largest food pantry programs in the nation.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Concrete; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Inspection; Roads/Highways; Steel

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