April 18, 2014

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How safe are Lorain County’s bridges?

LORAIN — At least seven of the county’s nearly 500 bridges have received the same low rating as the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis.

The bridges received a four, which is also known as “poor condition,” on a scale of zero to nine. Ratings are given by the engineers or consultants during examinations of the bridges and are based on what is seen in the structure.

A four rating is given when there’s advanced section loss, deterioration, cracking, chipping, crumbling or fraying, according to Bill Holtzman, the county’s chief deputy engineer.

JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
A bridge along Jones Road in Wellington Township is among those listed in “poor condition.”

The Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed Wednesday received that rating in a report published in 2005, which also labeled that bridge “structurally deficient.” The report was commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Another report published in 2001 shows there were similar warning signs about that well-traveled bridge, which saw an estimated 140,000 drivers daily.

Holtzman said despite what happened in Minnesota, a four rating isn’t necessarily cause for concern. The bridge can still be used, he said, but should be watched for further deterioration.

There were no other bridges locally that logged lower ratings than the seven bridges rated as fours.

“We keep an eye on them, but I’d be more concerned if they were given a two,” he said.

State law requires the county to conduct annual inspections on the 231 bridges that fall under its jurisdiction. Using a vehicle called a snooper truck, a bucket containing an engineer is moved underneath the bridge with a mechanical arm so the structure can be inspected and any faults can be recorded.

‘POOR’ BRIDGES

Bridges in Lorain County that received a rating of four, which means they are deemed to be in poor condition:
Quarry Road bridge, New Russia Township
Jones Road bridge, Wellington Township
Mennell Road bridge, Grafton Township
Foster Avenue bridge, Penfield Township
Stewart Street bridge, Rochester Township
Blanche Avenue bridge, Carlisle Township
Waterfall Drive bridge, Carlisle Township

Another 239 bridges in Lorain County are owned by the state and also are inspected once a year in the same manner. Brian Stacy, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said Thursday that he could not find out what the labels and ratings are for the state-owned bridges in Lorain County until today, when ODOT engineers return to the office from inspecting bridges.
Holtzman said there is nothing that would lead him to believe that any county bridges that his engineers inspected would collapse.
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “There were probably many factors that we’ll learn about that made (the Interstate 35W bridge) collapse. We’re fine.”

Two of the local bridges that received ratings of four — the Mennell Road bridge in Grafton Township and the Jones Road bridge in Wellington Township — will be rehabilitated over the next year. The remaining five will be rehabilitated over the next three years, Holtzman said.

Assistant County Engineer John Hamilton said no county bridges were labeled “structurally deficient,” as the Minneapolis bridge was. A bridge receives that label when significant elements have deteriorated and the bridge’s load-carrying capacity is reduced.
County Engineer Ken Carney said the county has never had to reduce the load-carrying capacity of any of its bridges, which would mean that the bridge wasn’t strong enough for heavier vehicles such as semis to drive on.

The seven bridges that received a poor rating did, however, receive a “functionally obsolete” rating, which means the bridge does not meet current design standards.

Neither label indicates a bridge is unsafe for travel, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
A closer look at the deterioration beneath the bridge along Jones Road in Wellington Township.

Ohio has more than 100 bridges statewide that share the design of the one that collapsed in Minneapolis, and all of them passed inspection within the past year, the state Department of Transportation’s chief inspector said Thursday.

The bridges with an under-deck truss design get extra attention, Chief Inspector Mike Loeffler said, because of what he called its “nonredundant” structure.

“On most of your beamed bridges, if one beam fails, there is enough redundancy that other beams can pick up the force,” Loeffler said Thursday.

But with an under-deck truss, “If a fracture should occur, the complete bridge can fall down,” he said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has inspection responsibility for 12 similar under-deck truss bridges in the state. Another 169 are the responsibility of local government agencies.

But Loeffler said, since Ohio law mandates that every bridge be inspected every year —unlike federal law that requires inspections every two years —ODOT didn’t have to scramble to inspect bridges after the collapse of the I-35W bridge.

Six of Ohio’s under-deck truss bridges are part of the interstate system, three near Cincinnati and three near Cleveland. Officials already are planning to replace four of them — two on I-71 in Warren County and two on I-90 in Lake County.

“They’re not meeting traffic demand,” Loeffler said. “They are more capacity issues than safety issues.”

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com. The Associated Press contributed to this article.