Bridge collapses before closure

Published 9:06 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

If the sign says 6,000 pounds, it means 6,000 pounds.

One of several small, low-weight bridges in Lincoln Countybuckled under the strain of a heavy vehicle that ignored postedlimits Thursday morning, sending deputies and a road crew down thewinding dirt path to begin a project to replace the bridge ahead oftime.

No one was injured and nothing damaged – except the bridge, ofcourse – when a utility company truck tried to creep across the6,000-pound posted bridge on Vienna Trail around 10 a.m., but theincident qualifies as a teachable moment.

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“The bridge is low posted at 6,000 pounds, and that’s just fornormal traffic – no loaded trucks or school buses should have beencrossing that bridge,” said Ryan Holmes, a county engineer withDungan Engineering, PA. “The problem you get into is when peopletry to sneak across them when they have a little more than 6,000pounds on the truck.”

Vienna Trail’s wooden bridge in District Five was basicallycondemned in a supervisors meeting on Feb. 1, when county engineersdeclared it unsafe and recommended it be closed within 45 daysafter compiling a 600-page safety inspection report.

Around 10 days remained before the closure deadline Thursdaywhen the Vienna Trail bridge fell in. A project to replace thebridge ahead of the closure date has been stalled by February’s wetweather.

The road will remain closed for at least a week while the bridgeis replaced with a culvert.

Also recommended for closure on the engineers’ inspection reportwere bridges on Forest Trail and Pleasant Grove Road.

Holmes said projects to replace both spans are awaiting approvalat the Office of State Aid Road Construction, with Forest Traillikely to close by the 45-day limit and construction to begin. Hesaid maintenance work would likely keep Pleasant Grove Roadopen.

While the Forest, Vienna and Pleasant Grove bridges are the onlythree seeing immediate action, there are several more low- andmedium-weight posted bridges in the county that drivers should beaware of, Holmes said. He said Lincoln County ranks third in thestate in number of bridges – with slightly more than 300 – and 70of those bridges are posted.

Lincoln County’s smallest bridges are usually supported bywooden pilings that deteriorate over time, and several have lowweight limits – from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds. Holmes said thosenumbers should be taken seriously.

“They’re posted low for a reason. That’s not an arbitrary numberwe came up with, it’s based on inspection and facts,” he said. “A19,000-pound limit is a better load rating, but it’s stilllow-weight. You wouldn’t want a school bus going across that.”

Holmes said overweight vehicles rarely experience theconsequences of putting too much load across a bridge – it’susually the person who follows.

Even though truck that broke the Vienna Trail bridge Thursdayappeared to be too heavy, District Five Supervisor Gary Walker saidthe damage had already been done.

“They’ve been hauling logs across it,” he said. “I’ve got someother bridges – all of (supervisors) do – that have low weightlimits, and people cross them with heavy loads anyway. What do youdo? You can’t keep a man there 24 hours per day, seven days perweek. It happens all the time.”