News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 8, 2011

How long will Eel bridge stay closed?

State hopes to have timetable this week

TERRE HAUTE — How long it will take to repair the closed Eel River Bridge on Indiana 46 near Bowling Green should be known this week, a state highway spokeswoman said Monday.

“We should have plans sometime this week from our Bridge Rehabilitation section,” said Debbie Calder, Indiana Department of Transportation media relations director. “The construction department will then set the time on the construction. After that we should have a better time frame on the length of the closure.”

The iron truss bridge in eastern Clay County has been closed since Nov. 1 after a crack was found in a gusset plate underneath the bridge on the west end above the pier. A gusset plate connects beams and girders in structures. This is the second bridge closed in the state in recent weeks because of a gusset plate issue.

The most notable bridge failure because of gusset plates is the collapse of the Interstate 35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., on Aug. 1, 2007. Thirteen people were killed and 145 injured in that bridge collapse. Investigators found that the bridge had 16 under-designed gusset plates that all fractured. 

Since the Eel River bridge is on the state’s Historic Select list, the repair must be coordinated with the State Historic Preservation Office, Calder said.

The closure has caused a lengthy detour for motorists traveling the highway through Clay County.

The recommended detour from Terre Haute sends traffic onto Indiana 59 south to Indiana 246 in Clay City, then eastward through Patricksburg to Vandalia on Indiana 46 in Owen County. The detour is 22 miles and takes about 34 minutes. Without the detour, traveling on Indiana 46 from Hwy 59 to Indiana 246 is about 15 miles and takes about 17 minutes.

That detour has raised some traffic concerns in the tiny Owen County community of Patricksburg, where an elementary school stands along Indiana 246.

To slow traffic during the school day, a deputy sheriff has been parking along the highway with his emergency lights activated, school principal Amy Elkins told the Tribune-Star.

“We probably still have some drivers going too fast,” Elkins said. “But law enforcement has had more presence and that has slowed down traffic.”

Large trucks seem to be the main speed offenders, she said, as well as people caught off-guard by the detour and the added travel time.

Not many youths in the school of 220 students walk to school, Elkins said, but those who do must cut through yards because there are no modern sidewalks connecting to the school, and some walk along the highway. The school has a crossing guard who monitors walking students in the morning and at the close of school. There have been no close calls involving students or traffic, she said.

Another detour for drivers traveling from Terre Haute to Bloomington is to take U.S. 40 (or Interstate 70) east to U.S. 231, south to Spencer and then east on Indiana 46.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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