Age and summer heat are taking a heavy toll on the nation’s bridges, with a wave of emergency closures and other measures reported nationwide in recent weeks.
Iowa, Ohio, New York and Missouri have all announced emergency bridge closures for cracks, corrosion and other structural issues, while Minnesota announced—in the same week—weight limits on one bridge and extended emergency closures on a second one.
Minnesota: ‘Another Wake-up Call’
In Minnesota—site of the catastrophic I-35 bridge collapse that killed 13 people in 2007—emergency weight restrictions were imposed Thursday (Aug. 18) on the Stillwater Lift Bridge over the St. Croix River, after state inspectors found significant corrosion on various components during a routine inspection.
|Emergency repairs on Minnesota’s Stillwater Lift Bridge are “yet another wake-up call that we need a new bridge,” says Mayor Ken Harycki.|
"Corrosion of the steel is such where enough has fallen away that we need to reassess the load-carrying capacity of the bridge," Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge engineer Nancy Daubenberger told reporters. "That is routinely done with these inspections.”
She added, "Although the bridge can safely handle day-to-day traffic, heavy loads will wear the bridge out more quickly. Restricting the loads before and during the repairs will help prevent damage to the bridge."
Load limits were temporarily reduced to 24 tons (from 28) for single trucks and to 28 tons (from 40) for semi-trucks and trailer trucks. Repairs should be completed in within 10 days, but previously scheduled major repairs will still be needed next year.
"It's yet another wake-up call that we need a new bridge,” said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki. “It's an 80-year-old bridge. July 1st, it celebrated its 80th birthday. You can keep pouring money into it, but it's going to keep deteriorating."
Meanwhile, Minnesota is just now securing final funding for major repairs on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. The state shut down the Mississippi River bridge by emergency order in October after inspectors discovered corrosion in one-quarter of the cables within the internal bridge structure.
The four-span bridge, which opened in 1983, carried about 14,000 vehicles daily. In an emergency legislative session earlier this month, the state obtained the last $4 million it needed for the $6 million repair job, but the project will require a long stretch of warm weather, which will mean pushing the work into next spring, officials say.
The $4 million will come from a $33 million bridge bonding package authorized during the special session. That is in addition to $2.145 million in state maintenance aid earmarked for emergency repairs earlier this year.
The Plymouth Avenue Bridge closing came just days after the partial collapse of a bridge over Elk Creek near the town of Brewster, southwest of Minneapolis. That bridge was being prepared for bituminous overlay Oct. 19 when a section gave way under an 80,000-pound milling machine, reports said. No injuries were reported.
Iowa: ‘Absolutely Devastating’
In Iowa, meanwhile, state transportation officials abruptly closed the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing last week, dealing a serious blow to local tourism and commuting.
The bridge, connecting De Soto and Lansing, was closed immediately—and indefinitely—after a crack was found in the floor beam during a routine inspection.
|The Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing, IA, was closed abruptly last week to repair a crack, devastating both commuters and tourism.
“It’s devastating,” Lansing Mayor Don Peters told the Lacrosse Tribune. “Absolutely devastating.”
He added: “I don’t know how many employees live in Wisconsin, but how are they going to get here?”
The bridge’s loss has some commuters facing a 70-mile round trip from Lansing. Peters said he is trying to organize a boat system to bring commuters from the Wisconsin side of the bridge to the Iowa side and a shuttle to get them to work, the newspaper reported.
But the mayor was not optimistic about the bridge’s reopening, saying, “I have a feeling it won’t be soon.”
Missouri: ‘Fell Apart’
An expansion joint that “fell apart” just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend forced the emergency closing of the 18th Street Bridge in downtown St. Louis.
The repairs also shut down a major downtown street, which also serves the Amtrak and Greyhound Stations, and forced the city’s light-rail Metro system to make route changes.
The repairs were expected to take three weeks, but the bridge had not reopened as of Friday (Aug. 19).
New York: 2 Emergency Closures
Commuters to Syracuse's University Hill and downtown areas in New York have been grappling with emergency bridge repairs that narrowed a stretch of Interstate 81 to one lane after a hole was found in the bridge.
Work on the critical artery was to be completed in late July, but continued into August. The state DOT says more extensive repairs were needed than originally thought, but posed no danger to drivers, WSYR-TV reported.
|The bridges of Mount Vernon, NY, are “in dire need of attention,” says Mayor Clinton Young Jr.|
About the same time, MTA Metro-North Railroad and the City of Mount Vernon, NY, closed that city’s 117-year-old Sixth Avenue Bridge so the railroad could make emergency repairs to the steel floor beam.
The bridge, almost 62 feet long, was built in 1894 and has a load limit of three tons. It is a major north-south connection to the city’s hospital, downtown and city hall. The work was scheduled to be completed Aug. 24.
“The bridges in the city … are in dire need of attention,” said Mayor Clinton Young Jr. The closure “will be a hardship. However, these safety upgrades must be completed expeditiously.”
Other summer bridge emergencies included shutdowns or partial shutdowns to spans in Louisiana, Connecticut and Ohio.