Closed bridges solution won’t be cheap for county
A pair of troubled bridges over water have Putnam County officials in a quandary.
After failing inspection last month, Bridge 45 in Jackson Township and Bridge 71 in Floyd Township were closed indefinitely.
At the time, Putnam County Highway Supervisor Mike Ricketts expressed his hope that a relatively inexpensive fix could be found, such as two years ago when an even older iron bridge in Warren Township required only $10,000 of work.
No such luck this time.
On Monday, Ricketts told the Putnam County Commissioners that rehabilitating the two bridges would come at a combined estimated cost of $1.4 million.
Alternatively, new bridges would cost a minimum of $2 million to $2.4 million each.
The county has a total of about $900,000 budgeted annually for all bridge and culvert maintenance.
“Long story short, it’s going to be closed for a while until we can figure out what to do,” Ricketts said.
One funding solution could be the issuance of bonds to finance a project.
“So what are our options?” Commissioner Rick Woodall asked.
“We could bond it out,” Ricketts said.
The possibility of a bond issuance has at least two of the commissioners thinking about the long-term viability of continuing to apply band-aids to bridges that are more than a century old.
“The reality is, if you spend $1.5 million, it’s still an iron bridge,” Woodall said. “And if you spend more, it’s a new bridge.”
Built in 1915, Bridge 45 carries County Road 900 East over Big Walnut Creek, a little more than one mile south of State Road 236. The road and bridge sit on the Hendricks County line.
Prior to the closure, the through-truss iron bridge had a 12-ton rating.
Also built in 1915, Bridge 71 is another through-truss iron structure. It carries County Road 500 East over Clear Creek downstream of Heritage Lake. The affected stretch of road runs between 300 North and 375 North.
Prior to the closure, the bridge had a three-ton rating.
“I struggle with spending a million and a half bucks on bridges that are 100-plus years old,” Woodall said.
“We have to think about the next generation,” Berry said. “I think we should replace the bridges.”
Complicating such a plan is that Bridge 45 has been deemed historically significant, meaning that it could not simply be torn down and the pieces scrapped.
Instead, such bridges must be preserved in some way, whether that means bypassing them and leaving them in place, relocating them for another use such as a park or even dismantling them and storing them for future use.
In 2014, the county had a contractor take Houck Iron Bridge down before trucking the pieces to the Wabash and Erie Canal Park in Delphi. The old bridge now serves as a pedestrian bridge at the park.
Ricketts also noted that McCloud Nature Park, just upstream from Bridge 45 in Hendricks County, utilizes a similar bridge for pedestrians.
Added to all this, Woodall wondered aloud if the county is going to go so far as to issue bonds, should it consider replacing other aging bridges?
Whatever the ultimate solution, for now it remains a waiting game for the county.
In a better piece of bridge news, Ricketts gave an update on Bridge 279, an abandoned bridge over CSX Railroad in Madison Township.
Rather than having to pay to tear down the bridge, the county could instead enter into an agreement to vacate the right-of-way over the railroad, which would leave CSX to take down the bridge at some point in 2020.
Ricketts had been contacted last month by CSX about tearing down the bridge, which the railroad had deemed to be unsafe.
The bridge was permanently closed to traffic in 2003 but at the time was deemed sound enough to stay in place.
Sixteen years of aging has the bridge much worse for wear, including extensive rust in some places and even trees growing from portions of the structure.
The commissioners unanimously approved petitioning to vacate the bridge to CSX.