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September 19, 2012

Officials advocating for more than a quick fix for Eel River bridge

BOWLING GREEN, IND. — A bridge over the Eel River just outside Bowling Green must be reviewed to be refurbished or replaced to ensure Indiana 46 remains a main artery of commerce and traffic, said James R. Mann II, a Democrat candidate for the District 46 seat in the Indiana House of Representatives.

“This is the biggest link between Vigo County and Monroe County. This is business, this is safety, this is schools, this is education. This is such a significant artery for the communities here,” Mann said Tuesday in a news conference at the bridge, built in 1933.

“Everywhere I go, people talk about the roads and bridges and this is job number one. If elected, I will be INDOT’s [Indiana Department of Transportation] biggest supporter,” Mann said. “I will ask what do we need to do in order to improve this structure” during the two-year budget writing session in 2013, Mann said.

“The bridge is on the historic register, so it has a different set of rules that take place here, but this doesn’t need to be closed more months out of the year than it is open,” Mann added.

On July 26 INDOT placed a 16-ton weight limit on the bridge. The bridge was then closed on July 31 when structural engineers retained by INDOT recommended its closing after identifying more corrosion in the structural steel than was previously documented.

INDOT in late August announced design plans for the bridge repair were finished and opened repair bids on Sept. 12. INDOT on Monday announced that George R. Harvey & Son Inc. from Danville was the low bidder and awarded a $274,033 contract to repair the bridge.

Work is expected to start by the first of October. INDOT estimates the bridge can safely be reopened to traffic in late October.

“I am not advocating for a new bridge if this one can be refurbished,” Mann said. “I think the last time it was refurbished was in the late 1970s. If it is time, we need to do that again.”

INDOT’s detour follows Indiana 46 to Indiana 246 west to Indiana 59 and back to Indiana 46. However, Clay County Commissioner Charlie Brown said that route is too long, adding about a half hour of driving time. Because of that, many drivers are using River Road in Clay County.

The road, which is 11⁄2 lanes wide, is now being heavily traveled for about 6 to 8 miles, including use from heavy trucks, Brown said. “There is increased traffic and an increase of dust. We can’t maintain it,” Brown said. “This is really a burden on us and to the local residents.”

“I think this bridge fix will just be a Band-Aid,” Brown said.

Brown said commissioners had discussed putting a speed limit on River Road, which is currently 55 mph. However, now that INDOT may have the bridge open by the end of October, that will not likely happen, he added.

On Tuesday, District 46 Rep. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute, called it “frustrating” that the bridge has been closed for months “but INDOT has to send out bids and has a process they have to go through, which takes five or six weeks.”

Heaton, who Mann opposes in the fall election, said,  “We were trying to push this as much as we could to get it looked at and get the work started. They can never do it fast enough,” Heaton said.

Heaton said he will look at the issue of bridge repair in the district and statewide. “How many bridges out there are 80 to 90 years old? We will have to address them down the road and probably replace them, whether historical bridges or not,” Heaton said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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