MOUNT VERNON — Of the numerous responsibilities that face Knox County Engineer Jim Henry each day, one of his largest responsibilities is the building and maintenance of the bridges across Knox County.
“We are continuing with aggressive bridge replacement,” said Henry, who explained how the Ohio Department of Transportation is interested in the ability of bringing projects to completion rather quickly. Funds for these bridge projects are available through Ohio Public Works Commission grants. These state capital improvement funds are often referred to as Issue 1 funds.
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Henry stated that participation in the “Just Build” program has helped Knox County in its bridge reconstruction projects. The Federal program is a pilot program which began in 2004 in District 5 only. Only counties within this district have been eligible to compete for funding of projects, although Henry has pushed in making this a statewide program. It is a six-year process, so bids are now being placed for projects in 2017, according to Henry.
“We can do traditional funding where we hire a consultant and requests go through ODOT approval,” said Henry. “Or we can utilize the ‘Just Build’ program.”
Henry described this program as one where, “We stay out of the water ... we don’t go into the stream.” With no environmental clearance involved, these projects either use an existing abutment or step back behind and construct a new abutment. “Not every bridge will fit into this,” said Henry. “It’s not for big bridges.”
One project that county workers will be completing this week is repair of a bridge on Thayer Road which was reduced to a 10-ton load limit in January when it was discovered that I-beams were heavily rusted. It was found that when the bridge was installed in 1987 prior to Henry’s days as Knox County engineer, a corrugated metal which covers the I-beams had been filled with gravel and asphalt, unlike the current practice of filling with concrete.
“It’s not done that way now,” said Henry. “But it was an accepted method,” he said in referring to putting in a gravel fill. The ineffective fill material allowed salt to seep through and rust the I-beams, thus weakening the load capacity of the bridge. Large trucks, especially garbage trucks, which cross this bridge are another factor which causes deterioration, according to Henry.
And steps are being taken in order to avoid these problems in the future. Along with changing the fill material in these bridges, improvements are being made in road surfacing of using non-penetrable material.
“We’re always trying to adjust and improve the way we do things,” said Henry. He also stated that heavy hauling trucks are required to obtain a permit when carrying a load higher than a bridge’s load limit. Anyone violating these limits can be fined, and part of the money collected goes to the county.
A total of 14 bridges were replaced in 2010. Of these, six were from Ohio Public Works Commission funds, six were from the “Just Build” program, and two were county funded. In balancing the costs of the county bridge program, 26.6 percent of the costs goes toward projects, 25 percent to materials, 24.4 percent to labor, 20.2 percent to consulting engineers and 3.8 percent to employee benefits.