Troubled bridges

More than three years after its closure, foreboding ”Do Not Enter” signs now block the entrances to what was once the second-largest bridge system in Trumbull County.

Closed indefinitely in October 2009 by the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, the Olive Street Bridge now sits abandoned.

Meanwhile, businesses and residents have had to adjust to life without the 933-foot concrete arch joining Niles and McDonald over the Mahoning River.

Anthony Potts, a technician with Quality Alarm Service, works in the company’s office on the Niles side of the bridge.

“The easiest way to tell customers how to get here now is to say, ‘Go toward the closed bridge and that’s our parking lot,'” Potts said.

The Olive Street Bridge was in such poor shape, county engineers took the drastic measure of closing it down, but it is hardly the only bridge in the area in need of repair.

A total of 47 bridges countywide have been deemed by the county engineers as ”structurally deficient.”

Each bridge in the county is given a general appraisal based on the ”deck,” or surface; ”super,” or upper portion of the bridge; and ”sub,” or foundation. If any of these categories is given a rating of 4 or less, the bridge is marked structurally deficient.

A spotlight has been put on bridges across the country following the collapse of Interstate 5 highway bridge in northern Washington last month. The I-5 spans 60 miles north of Seattle.

Gary Shaffer, engineer with the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, said that while there are a number of structurally deficient bridges in Trumbull County, few pose an actual threat to travelers.

“It doesn’t mean that the thing is going to collapse and it doesn’t even necessarily mean that there are any major problems,” Shaffer Thursday. “If you take a look, and the deck is a 4 but the rest of it is a 6, it’s in fair condition. The deck is easy to repair and we could have that asphalt off tomorrow.”

A large portion of Shaffer’s job is gathering data on county bridges, conferring with colleagues and deciding which bridges are in most need of repair or replacement.

In 2011 and 2012, the county engineers conducted a load rating, testing all county bridges for weight allowances, traffic flow and general stability. Results from this test along with constant inspections inform the engineers’ decisions.

Of the 47 bridges designated structurally deficient, eight of those were given a rating of 2 in its general appraisal. There are no bridges rated below a 2. Shaffer said the key to making sure these bridges don’t pose a threat is to constantly monitor them and post weight limitations.

“We did just buy a bunch of scales and we’re working with the sheriff’s department,” Shaffer said. “The people and the industries by these bridges continually report people running them.”

If a bridge cannot handle at least three tons, it is closed until repaired or replaced.

“That’s the limit,” Shaffer said. “If you get below three tons, you have to close it.”

Shaffer urged motorists to be aware of postings on bridges, many of which go over small creeks.

“I’m going to tell the public if a bridge is posted, please honor that road posting,” Shaffer said. “Especially the truck drivers, delivery men, UPS, obey that because you do hasten the deterioration of the bridge when you take overweight loads over top of those bridges.”

In the next year, the county engineers will replace three bridges in-house. These bridges are on Township Road 155-E in Howland, Township Road 157-A in Bazetta and Corinth Court Road in Gustavus.

While costs to replace a bridge may vary, Shaffer said the majority are in the neighborhood of $750,000 for the planning through the construction of a bridge between 30 and 40 feet. Once construction begins, it has an estimated completion time of 90 days.

“I’m not too popular at the fiscal meetings,” Shaffer laughed. “I’m reaching into everybody’s budget. But these fixes are important.”

Trumbull County normally replaces approximately two bridges per year, officials said.

Still, a far larger project remains the Olive Street Bridge, but officials said they are finally to the point where a contract can be put in place for full replacement.

“That’s one of the bridges right now that is considered a major concern and one we’ve been working on funding,” Shaffer said.

According to Shaffer, with the help of Eastgate Regional Governments, a $6 million replacement project for Olive Street will go out to bid in December with a contract expected to be in place by Jan. 1, 2014. The money for the project will come from federal and state grants.

“We worked really hard with Eastgate Regional planning organization,” Shaffer said. “It is going to be a full replacement. We’re going to probably take if from its original 933-foot span to about 750 feet. So we’re shortening it up.”

To be sure, replacement of a large arch bridge can take several years, Shaffer said.

Jet Stream International is a manufacturing plant sitting on the Niles side of the Olive Street Bridge, the site of the former Michigan Hanger. Kalyn Sharrow, logistics coordinator for Jet Stream, said the replacement bridge will be a welcome relief for their shipping trucks.

“We do have shipments and that was a truck route,” Sharrow said. “So now if we’re sending people, we have to send them all the way down (state Route) 46 to McKees Lane and then back. That’s a truck route as well, but it’s not very easy for a semi truck. That turn alone from McKees onto Belmont (Avenue) is not easy.”

Shaffer, who joined the engineers office four years ago, said he believes that county bridges in general are in pretty good shape.

“It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people,” Shaffer said. “I think we’re doing a good job with what we’ve got.”