Divers inspect pier for bridge on 465

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2003

Jason Oatman, top, of Specialty Diving watches as fellow diver Travis Pierce, bottom, takes measurements from one of the piers of the Mississippi 465 bridge over Steele Bayou Thursday.(C. Todd Sherman The Vicksburg Post)

[7/11/03]Travis Pierce dove into the warm waters of Steele Bayou Thursday morning to measure damage to the Mississippi 465 bridge, and his findings could result in closing the span to truck traffic.

“Depending on the measurements we may have to close the road,” said Lonny Pigott, bridge rating section engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “I doubt it will come to that, but it’s headed in that direction, so to speak.”

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In routine inspections in 1994 and 1999 and a “special” inspection in 2001, inspectors found a 30 percent deterioration in one of the steel piers holding the bridge that carries traffic cars and some heavy farming equipment from U.S. 61 to Eagle Lake.

“We thought it would be wise to check the bridge again,” said Pigott.

The damage is from flash floods making lower parts of the pier dry for periods of time and wet at others, Pigott said.

The previous inspections resulted in restricting trucks carrying large loads from crossing the bridge, and work has begun to replace the pier.

Pigott said passenger vehicles traveling across the 44-year-old span are safe.

Pierce, dive supervisor Jeff Williamson, and Jeff Oatman, are all employees of the Hammond, La.-based company Specialty Diving, which was contracted to do the inspection by the department of transportation.

Williamson was part of a team that conducted the inspection in 2001.

A diver for seven years, Pierce said he has dived into the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois and as far south as the Gulf Coast.

“I can stick my hand in front of my face plate and can’t see a thing,” said Pierce, laughing. “And a flashlight isn’t going to help.”

While under water, Pierce communicated through what Williamson called “communication cables” connecting the divers’ hats to a radio in the boat.

Pierce took the underwater measurements of the steel support piers with a ultrasound, and Williamson recorded the numbers.

Williamson said the dive normally takes about 70 minutes.