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County bridges said to be safe

August 03, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County officials said Thursday that local bridges are safe, a day after a bridge collapse in Minneapolis killed at least four people.

Engineers and technicians perform "hands-on" inspections of 90 bridges in the county and 12 in Hagerstown at least every two years, said Terrence McGee, Washington County's chief engineer.

Inspectors crawl into nooks and crannies looking for missing bolts, rusted bolts, cracked concrete and other signs of decay, he said.

For bridges over water, underwater teams search for soil erosion, county bridge engineer Scott Hobbs said. Inspectors sometimes perform ultrasounds or X-ray areas of concern, McGee said.

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The next round of inspections of local bridges begins this fall, McGee said.

The total cost of the inspections is about $300,000, which is paid by the county with money from the Federal Highway Administration, he said.

"We're very confident in the safety of our bridges," said Joseph Kroboth, the county's public works director.

While federal law mandates that the county's bridges of at least 20 feet in length be inspected at least every two years, another 150 shorter bridges in the county are inspected every four years, Kroboth said.

The county hires engineering consultants through the State Highway Administration to perform the inspections.

"Don't panic, and don't be afraid to go across any of our bridges," McGee said.

None of Hagerstown's bridges poses a structural safety concern, said Eric Deike, manager of public works for the city.

The county's capital improvement plan proposes rehabilitation projects for some area bridges. The Poffenberger Road bridge is the most expensive of the proposed projects, and rehabilitation is classified as essential.

The stone-arch structure is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and requires concrete fill, traffic barrier upgrades and scour repair to maintain the bridge in serviceable condition, according to the plan. Scour repair fixes areas where the river caused erosion, McGee said.

The proposed project should cost about $1,366,000.

Washington County's bridge inspection program is aggressive, and the county hired a full-time bridge engineer seven years ago, said Gary Rohrer, county director of special projects.

The state maintains several bridges in Washington County, including the Interstate 81 bridge over the Potomac River into West Virginia, the U.S. 11 bridge over the Potomac River into West Virginia and the U.S. 522 bridge near Hancock.

More than 56,000 vehicles cross the Interstate 81 bridge each day, according to a traffic volume map prepared by the State Highway Administration.

Information about the condition of those bridges was not available Thursday, a state highway spokeswoman said.

County officials stressed that drivers should heed posted weight limits on bridges.

"All of our bridges, we believe, are in reasonable shape for the postings," McGee said.

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