Washington bridge closed for repairs following inspection

Sunday, August 12, 2007

WASHINGTON, Mo. -- The Missouri River bridge at Washington was closed Saturday for repairs because of deterioration, the Missouri Department of Transportation said.

The closure came after a weeklong inspection of the 73-year-old bridge, which is similar in design to the one that collapsed Aug. 1 in Minneapolis. Eight people were confirmed dead Saturday from that bridge collapse, and five people were still missing.

Plans were also underway to call lawmakers into a special session starting Aug. 20 to consider an economic development package and a measure that could help speed up repairs to Missouri's bridges.

House Speaker Rod Jetton sent an e-mail Thursday to fellow Republican legislators outlining Gov. Matt Blunt's plans for the special session. Blunt has not yet officially called lawmakers into session.

The bridge measure is intended to fix a glitch that has been delaying the Department of Transportation's plan to award a single bid to repair and maintain about 800 bridges.

The inspection of the Washington bridge revealed the steel support structure was significantly more corroded and deteriorated than in 2005, when it last received a close-up inspection, said Ed Hassinger, the department's district engineer.

Crews posted a lower load limit of 10 tons Friday night to keep large trucks off the bridge. The bridge was scheduled to close at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and remain closed during repair work. It was unclear how long that would take.

Governors across the country ordered emergency inspections of thousands of bridges after the Minnesota collapse.

Missouri inspectors are taking a close look at 11 bridges with deck truss spans, a web of steel that holds the bridge up. The Old Daniel Boone Bridge that carries westbound Highway 40 into St. Charles County will be inspected starting Aug. 27.

In Washington, alternate river crossings are on Highway 19 in Hermann or Highway 40 at the Boone Bridge in Chesterfield.

The transportation department delayed plans last month to choose a contractor for its massive bridge repair program because of requirements for the performance bonds the contractor would need. Performance bonds protect taxpayers if a contractor abandons a project after it has started.

Jetton said the current bonding language essentially allows a contractor to only design and build the bridge, and new language is needed to allow the contractor to maintain the bridge over the 30 years envisioned by the transportation department.

The program is expected to cost $400 million to $600 million and seeks to fix or replace nearly 80 percent of Missouri's substandard bridges by the end of 2012.

Jetton said he hoped House members could pass both bills in the first week of the special session, sending them to the Senate for action in the second week.

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