Historic Bird’s Nest Bridge closed—for now
|Written by Amy England|
|Thursday, 17 March 2011|
Bird’s Nest Bridge is closed—at least for the time being—as Crawford County Commissioners do further research into options for the aging structure. The commission agreed to temporarily close the bridge at its March 8 meeting in response to concerns about the safety of the crossing.
In late January, MoDOT completed a safety inspection of the bridge, which was built in 1914. The resulting inspection showed a number of concerns with the structure, including a “serious” condition for the deck, a “poor” rating for the superstructure and a “fair” rating for the substructure. Since that time, the commission has held several discussions on options for the bridge, with the decision to close the crossing made just last week.
Rick Pilcher, PE District Design Liaison with MoDOT’s District 9, brought three general options to the table for commissioners at their March 8 meeting: 1) extend the life of the existing bridge, 2) close the crossing at this location, or 3) find a solution for a new crossing at this location.
Extending the life of the bridge would be a short-term solution, probably less than 10 years. “If you extend the life of the bridge, which is minimal, you have to keep monitoring it regularly with your road crews,” Pilcher said. “If there is a change, get an inspection to ensure there wouldn’t be any problems. Also, timely repairs are critical.” He pointed out that the condition of the aging bridge could change quickly and, if such changes were discovered, the county should close the structure immediately and only reopen it after a qualified bridge inspector reported it was safe to do so.
You can just straight-out close it,” Pilcher continued, offering the second option to the commission. “You might have the possibility of bureau funds to remove it. That could be a cost of around $100,000 to $200,000.” He noted that a cost estimate from an engineer would be needed to determine whether the federal funding option would be available. Removal of the bridge would greatly reduce the liability to the county.
Within the second option of closure, Pilcher noted that the bridge could be left in place without allowing vehicle traffic on it, which would reduce the traffic liability to the county. But he added that the bridge would someday fall down under its own weight, and there would still be a liability of people climbing on the structure and getting hurt.
The third option of creating a new crossing at the location is one the commission has also discussed for some time, including an investigation into the possibility of converting the nearby railroad crossing into a roadway bridge. Pilcher noted that it was difficult to estimate a cost for that idea, but suggested that it could be between $600,000 and $1.5 million. He believes a brand new bridge would cost well over that $1.5 million mark. “There are a lot of unknowns,” he cautioned. “You would need a good engineer.”
The option of converting the railroad bridge would probably require a lot of partnerships and, therefore, a lot of effort on the county’s part. One funding source could be federal BRO monies, which MoDOT could help in obtaining. Another source could be CDBG and Delta grants, which could be obtained with assistance from Meramec Regional Planning Commission. It would also require county funding, county labor and equipment and possibly additional funding sources.
Pilcher reminded commissioners of the Sappington Bridge project within the county, noting that there were a lot of additional partnerships in that work. “It was very time-consuming and challenging,” he noted.
“If you want to move forward, get a quality bridge engineer and quality estimates on what to do,” Pilcher advised. “Once I know the direction the county wants to proceed, I will do my best to assist you in that direction.”
District #1 Commissioner Richard Martin, whose road district maintains the bridge, questioned the possibility of county road crews removing the bridge on their own, so that they could then salvage the materials to raise funds for the county. Pilcher noted that was a possibility, but that if bureau funds were used the county could be reimbursed for the work done and that 80 percent of the county’s engineering fees and documented cost could be given to the county in soft-match funding towards a future bridge construction project.
Martin also asked for Pilcher’s opinion on whether the bridge should be closed. “Truss bridges are kind of like people,” Pilcher responded. “They are hard to compare. Sappington clearly needed to be closed. Period. This bridge has a different personality, different problems. Hopefully we’ll spot those problems and have them solved before it falls in.”
“We don’t even want to take a chance,” Martin replied. “What if we had 100 canoes going underneath? I’ve seen a difference in that bridge. I lived on that road for 17 and a half years and I’ve seen a big change. Just stand underneath and watch when a vehicle goes across.”
Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders also expressed some concerns with the option of converting the railroad bridge for vehicle traffic. “If we pursue that, there are unknowns,” he said. “What if we own the railroad bridge and we end up needing to tear it down?” Martin also had concerns about the possibility of lead near the railroad.
Pilcher recommended the commissioners talk with the county attorney to better understand the liabilities involved in whatever choice they determined to make, emphasizing the difference between normal liabilities and negligent liabilities. He suggested that perhaps the county should engage an environmental agency to investigate any possible issues with the railroad before moving in that direction. He also noted that public meetings could be helpful in order to get input from county residents.
District #2 Commissioner John Hewkin also advocated a traffic study to see how many people actually use the bridge and how far they would have to go to get around if it were not available to them.
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