County bridge inventory outlines long list of needs

Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Dick Huffman Bridge

In news that hardly comes as a surprise to the Putnam County Commissioners, the bridges of the county need plenty of work.

During bridge inspections in 2023, County Engineer Jim Peck kept his bosses abreast of the situation with a number of aging and damaged bridges in the county.

On Monday, though, engineers from United Consulting, the contractor performing the bridge inventory for the county, presented their findings during the regular commissioners meeting.

The numbers aren’t necessarily pretty:

• The average age of Putnam County bridges is 61 years, compared to 45 in counties across the state. Likewise, just 34.1 percent of bridges across the state are more than 50 years old, but 56.8 percent are more than half a century old in Putnam county.

• Across the county, 37.4 percent of county-owned bridges are load posted, compared to 13.8 percent across all counties.

• Meanwhile, 19.8 percent of Putnam County bridges need increased frequency inspections, compared to just 6.6 percent statewide.

The United report also noted that the county has nearly 80 more bridges to maintain than the average county — 222 in Putnam compared to 144 on average.

The good news according to Brian Frederick, bridge department team leader for United, has been the responsiveness of Peck and the Putnam County Highway Department, who in many cases sprung into action to get some of the critically damaged bridges reopened.

For example, Bridge 187, an iron bridge over Deer Creek in Warren Township, was found to have vehicular damage, but the county reduced the load rating and got it reopened.

Meanwhile, Bridge 191 was found to have some cracks in its concrete on one side, so the county put barricades up to keep motorists off the area in question and still allow one-lane traffic on the bridge.

Dunbar Bridge was found to have timber rot, but was reinforced with steel plates until a full rehabilitation can be made.

“It’s been great working with Jim,” Frederick said. “We’ve had a lot of critical findings where he was proactive getting out there and getting things taken care of.”

Still, some bridges were found to be beyond simple repairs. The county’s longest and shortest covered bridges — Dick Huffman Bridge and Cornstalk Bridge, respectively — are both closed until more extensive repairs can be made. The same is true of Bridge 45, an iron bridge on the Hendricks County line south of State Road 236, and Bridge 211, which carries County Road 450 South over Mill Creek in eastern Jefferson Township.

“Those are all critical enough that they will remain closed until they can be repaired,” Frederick said.

As part of the findings, United presented the top five bridges on the replacement list and the top five bridges on the rehabilitation list.

Bridge replacement top five
• Bridge 78: County Road 500 North over Falls Branch Creek
• Bridge 189: County Road 675 South over branch of Belle Union Creek
• Bridge 157: County Road 750 West over branch of Maiden Run
• Bridge 105 (Dunbar Bridge): Dunbar Road over Big Walnut Creek
• Bridge 54: County Road 175 East over Bledsoe Branch Creek

Bridge rehabilitation top five
• Bridge 109: West Walnut over Little Walnut Creek
• Bridge 112: West Walnut over Big Walnut Creek
• Bridge 57: County Road 525 East over Big Walnut Creek
• Bridge 272 (Irwin Bridge): West Walnut over CSX Railroad
• Bridge 55: County Road 500 North over Big Walnut Creek

Such projects are part of the 10-year bridge plan, a laundry list that will cost an estimated $26.8 million.

However, not all of this money would have to come from county funds. Peck is already in the process of applying for federal aid to replace and bypass Dunbar Bridge. Additionally, previous applications have been submitted for Bridge 109 and Bridge 112, and they could be eligible for federal aid rehabilitation in the future.

Peck also noted that bridge work is on the docket for highway work in 2024, which includes repairs to Cornstalk, Dunbar, Edna Collings and Rolling Stone bridges.

In other highway-related business:

• The commissioners fielded a request from Steven Swanson, who lives on County Road 400 West in Russell Township.

Swanson noted the serious condition of his gravel road, particularly in wet or wintry weather.

“When it rains, you’re at about 4-6 inches of just lime slurry,” Swanson said. “It pulls you in whatever direction. We wash our cars about every day.”

He noted that even though the county is vigilant about putting down rock on the road several times a summer, even this is hard on tires.

He is hoping to have the road chipped and sealed.

“The condition of the road is bad, and it just gets worse every year, it seems,” Swanson said. “The question is, what can be done, what’s the process? This was my first step.”

Commissioner Rick Woodall noted that there is enough of a struggle to keep up with roads that the county does not normally like to pave any gravel roads. However, the county has previously worked with property owners on gravel roads to split the cost of chipping and sealing.

Peck said the highway department could look into the matter, put together an estimated on chipping and sealing the approximately two-mile stretch of road and see if homeowners in the area would be willing to split the cost.

In his highway report, Peck noted that crews have been out in warmer weather recently, spreading rock on gravel roads and grading them. On paved roads, the department has been fixing potholes with its Durapatcher as well as cold mix asphalt.

• Approved a five-year lease to pay for a pair of new dump trucks. The financing will come through First National Bank, whose 3.64 percent interest rate was significantly lower than a pair of other local banks.

• Peck also noted that County Road 425 East, one of the roads paved through a cost share with residents, was in need of some major repairs, which his crews will take care of as time and conditions allow.

He also said a culvert will be replaced on County Road 1000 North.

• The county is also likely to work with the Town of Bainbridge on installing reduced speed signs at the entrance to the town from both the north and south, as the speed limit suddenly drops from 45 mph on County Road 200 East to 20 mph when it becomes Washington Street at the town limits.

Legally, warning signs need to be in place if a speed limit drop of more than 15 miles per hour occurs.

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  • Infrastructure is a constant need. Especially when you neglect it.

    -- Posted by Koios on Tue, Feb 6, 2024, at 9:48 PM
  • I have inquired with the county highway department about at minimum putting ditches in on co rd 550 w. We have the same problem with the road turning to a muddy slurry when it rains or snow melt. Most of the time we have ZERO gravel on the road! It’s rough on our vehicles! The county says they don’t normally dig ditches on co roads but they sure have made saddle club road nice! Wonder if 3 Fat Labs paid to pave that road? Would be nice to have roads better than most 3rd world countries! I wonder if the commissioners would drive their nice vehicles down a mud road?

    -- Posted by putcoresident84 on Wed, Feb 7, 2024, at 8:48 AM
  • I have traveled many developing countries. These roads are significantly better.

    -- Posted by beg on Wed, Feb 7, 2024, at 8:59 AM
  • As a frequent critic of the highway department, I must admit Mr. Peck is a welcome change from his predecessor. But this habit of spreading rock on long stretches of road doesn't seem to help. The holes get filled for about a week before the loose rock is pushed out by traffic. Why not grade out the rough patches and apply rock to those areas, and skip the good sections of road? Result: better road and less rock wasted.

    -- Posted by Ben Dover on Wed, Feb 7, 2024, at 9:26 AM
  • Obviously beg my comment was meant to be snarky…

    -- Posted by putcoresident84 on Wed, Feb 7, 2024, at 4:57 PM
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