BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – On the heels of a rural timber bridge that collapsed on Monday, Lee County will have an independent inspector come out and take a look at 20 bridges built with timbers.
At Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board voted to allow County Engineer Ben Hull to spend $21,000 over two years to inspect and load grade the 20 bridges. Hull said the county typically does their own inspections.
The move also comes after a new law was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last month that allows overweight trucks from the forestry industry to use county roads.
“There are a variety of different truck weights that have been approved over the years, and there are now 96,000 lbs trucks out on our roads,” Hull said.
“Our bridges were not designed or rated for those and what I’m trying to do here is follow state guidelines in terms of time frames and what types of bridges need to be rated for these types of vehicles.”
Hull said the move may result in some added weight restriction postings on bridges.
“This may add some inconvenience, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do,” he said.
He said he’s proud of the department for being able to inspect their own bridges, but the contractors will have to put their seal of inspection on the bridges.
“As much as I like to do this in-house, I think it’s a good idea to have a little quality control on our work from time to time,” Hull said.
Ron Fedler said with the way the state is changing weight laws, the county has to do something with the bridges.
“We have to do something to protect our county bridges so we don’t do severe damage that would cost everybody a ton of money,” Fedler said.
Rick Larkin asked if the county put a new weight limit on the bridges, under the new weight laws, would company’s be able to exceed the posted limit.
Hull said that’s where the law gets tricky.
“If it’s posted they have to obey the signs. There’s been no reason to rate for those loads because they weren’t legal prior to now. So you have this period where the bridge was not posted because it was designed for all these loads, but then we changed the allowed weight of the loads,” Hull said.
Folluo asked if the new bridge rating would impact local traffic.
“It could. But that doesn’t mean that we should put people’s convenience over their safety. If it does result in bridges being deemed structurally deficient or having more weight limits put on them, the silver lining is that would likely increase our bridge replacement funding.”
Pflug asked what the plan of attack would be if bridges were found to be unsafe.
Hull said their could be some hard choices to be made.
“I’m not trying to paint a picture of armageddon here where we’re going to have mass closures, but I just wanted you to be aware of the impact,” he said.
The county currently has 136 bridges, but Hull said the inspections will focus on timber bridge substructures, with the exception of one concrete bridge he wanted an outside opinion on.
The bridge that collapsed was on a Level B road, Hull said, and it didn’t impact rural traffic, but has been closed.
In an unrelated issue, the board tabled a resolution that would have deemed all pipeline construction work complete. Supervisor Matt Pflug asked if the resolution was passed would that mean the county has released Dakota Pipeline from any future responsibility to the county.
“it might not hurt to get a final report from them that there was nobody hanging out there that might have a problem,” Pflug said.
Chairman Gary Folluo recommending tabling the issue and giving property owners a week to reach out to the county with any additional problems, but indicated the resolution would be put back on the agenda for a vote next week.