Old bridge stable despite hits, superintendent says|[04/10/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scrapes left by the four tows striking the U.S. 80 bridge since March 26 are “cosmetic” and do not threaten stability, Herman Smith, superintendent of the county-owned structure, said Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean the 78-year-old bridge didn’t get a wallop.

“It shook the bridge pretty good,” Smith said, reviewing recordings from security cameras with bridge commissioners.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

One pier supporting the Interstate 20 bridge, immediately south of the U.S. 80 bridge, was also hit by the MV Cindy Celeste, causing minor damage but leaving no new cracking or concrete damage, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development spokesman Brendan Rush said late Wednesday.

While inspections of Warren County’s bridge showed no damage, payments to Baton Rouge-based HNTB, a contract structural engineering firm, are expected to reach at least $2,000 for post-impact inspections. Smith said the commission will request reimbursements from the barge companies involved in accidents when steering control was lost to swirling and cross-currents accompanying floods.

Three barges have sunk in the Mississippi in the past two weeks, with part of another tow breaking up about 15 miles upstream. A March 31 incident involving a 25-barge tow left a wind-shear device inside pier 4, the third large pier from the Mississippi side and closest to the river’s center, shaking for hours afterward. The MV Robert Frame, carrying soybeans, struck pier 3 Saturday before floating into Entergy’s Baxter Wilson Steam Electric Plant.

On Sunday afternoon, a towboat pushing a 19-barge shipment of corn and steel apparently was pushed into pier 3 by a fast, strong current, then spun facing upriver after the impact and took on water. Crews on board were saved before evacuations became necessary.

“It came very close to hitting (the bridge) with the stern of the boat,” Smith said.

Barge traffic has been restricted by the U.S. Coast Guard since the second accident to daytime hours for southbound tows and nighttime for northbound. Ergon Marine has been used as a check-in station of sorts in the past several days for barge traffic navigating the river, now forecast to crest at 49.3 feet Sunday.

While the piers have withstood the test of time, stability projects continue to dominate the commission’s spending plan for the balance of the year.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the panel approved re-advertising work to replace concrete and bearings atop pier 2 after a single bid for the project came in more than two-thirds over cost estimates.

The first large pier from the Mississippi bank had been shifting west for about a decade until no further movement was found in the bridge’s annual stability report for 2007. Repositioning the wind-shear pendulum will remain part of the project, pegged at $593,000 by HNTB. Bidders will have two full months to submit offers, Smith said.

Other major work entails building a pair of concrete retaining walls to stop soil sliding along the Mississippi bank. Commissioners have said a pair of natural gas pipelines must be removed from the project’s path in order for its success.

Work to pour new concrete to the now-closed road deck expected done in June will be delayed until August due to high river stages’ effect on the work area below.

“When the water subsides, the ground will be like mush,” Smith said.

On the agendaAccepted the report for rail traffic for March, which was reported by Kansas City Southern Railway at 24,232 cars. A check for $93,620 reflecting January’s traffic arrived in March.Approved a request to replace the central processing unit for the bridge’s computer system, pegged at $805.Took under advisement a request from officials of Living Independence For Everyone to stage a 3K walk/run on the bridge’s former roadbed.Commissioners said the event is to take place sometime in the fall and a decision isn’t likely until river stages normalize.