Engineers find new problems at old bridge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 10, 2002

[10/10/02]Repairs to the supports of the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge have been completed, but engineers for the 72-year-old span have discovered another problem under the bridge.

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission approved a $100,000 increase to the engineer’s estimate in order to begin work on a pier that has sunk and caused a 4-inch dip in the railroad line that runs parallel to the bridge. Engineering costs for the repairs completed this year on two other piers had been $296,000.

Separately, the commission in its monthly meeting Wednesday elected Max Reed chairman to replace “Winky” Freeman, who was not reappointed to the commissioon by the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Ray Wade was appointed to the commission in Freeman’s seat.

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Commissioner Bobby LaGrone also announced that he is resigning his post on the panel at the end of this month because he is moving. His replacement will be named by the county board.

Freeman was named chairman last year after the resignation of Raymond Ray, who had been the longest-serving member of the commission. With the departure of the two members, Reed and Patricia Segrest will be the only members left from the 1999 vote to recommend the bridge be converted into a park.

“As chairman, I will do all I can to make this a smooth operation,” Reed said.

Shortly after the public vote in a non-binding referendum to reopen the bridge to traffic, the commission responsible for maintaining the county-owned bridge was told by engineers with HNTB of Baton Rouge that repairs were needed immediately to Pier 2 after it had shifted nearly 6 inches since 1997.

Engineers now say repairs are needed to Pier 1, the first concrete support from the Mississippi side of the bridge.

“It’s not something to be overly concerned with, but it is something we want to fix,” said Jack Shortess with HNTB. “We don’t want it to go down much more.”

Shortess said the pier has been sinking since 1998, but a recent inspection revealed that it has dropped three inches in the last year. The base of Pier 2, the next concrete support to the west, had been shifting to the west when the commission ordered emergency repairs.

A study by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is looking into the cause of the movement at Pier 2 and similar movement of a support under the Interstate 20 bridge.

“My guess is these two problems are connected,” Shortess said of the sinking of Pier 1.

The bridge has also experienced sinking in Bent ER, a steal support under the railroad tracks that does not support the roadway. Bridge maintenance crews repaired Bent ER by jacking up the tracks and placing steel plates under the support.

A similar method will be used on Pier 1, but will require larger equipment because the pier also supports the roadway, Shortess said.

The repairs are estimated to cost $200,000 and will be paid with bridge commission funds that come from a per-car toll charged to the railroad for use of the tracks.

Shiloh Contractors Inc. of Clinton, which is still on site from repair work to Pier 2, could be hired to make the repairs to Pier 1.

The bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1998 because of deterioration of the roadbed. That and other work would still be needed before the bridge could be reopened for traffic, and the cost for those repairs is estimated at $2.8 million.

Rail traffic continues to cross the river on the bridge at a rate of about 16 trains per day.