The Possum Glory Bridge will be given an extensive facelift, but the 105-year-old river crossing in Hawcreek Township will remain a one-lane truss bridge.
Steps expected to lead to the rehabilitation of the 130-foot-long structure along County Road 1150E have been approved by the Bartholomew County commissioners.
Other options considered during the past year for the Clifty Creek crossing north of Hartsville range from abandonment to the construction of an entirely new modern structure.
Legally known as Bridge 47 and sometimes referred to as the Galbraith Bridge, Possum Glory carries 60 to 80 vehicles per day. In contrast, the recently replaced Newbern Bridge, located four miles southwest, carries more than 800 cars and trucks on a daily basis.
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In addition, Possum Glory is not a protected historically select bridge that would qualify for either federal assistance or protection, Bartholomew County highway engineer Danny Hollander said.
While there are easily reached detours for nearby residents, commissioners have long been adamantly opposed to permanently closing bridges, citing potential consequences such as forced school bus rerouting and injury or death resulting from vehicles or farm equipment falling through abandoned decks.
Those same concerns also have been expressed by bridge consultant D. Eric Brunn, who gave the commissioners his recommendations last week.
Brunn, who works for the Columbus-based engineering firm Strand Associates, is recommending more than $400,000 worth of renovation and rehabilitation that includes:
Fixing deteriorating parts that have created a 20 percent structural loss.
Repairs to the truss itself.
Replacing crumbling end posts on both ends, as well as all concrete bearing seats.
Eliminating problem areas caused by ill-fitting parts installed when the bridge was erected in 1910.
Painting the entire structure.
The work will be paid out of money in the cumulative bridge fund, the only one of seven county funds that still has a seven-digit surplus.
While the bridge fund had a $1,993,213 balance as of last week, commissioners have made a commitment to spend $200,000 of that money next year on salaries in order to assist the financially strapped county government, Commissioners Chairman Larry Kleinhenz said.
In December 2011, the commissioners temporarily closed Possum Glory Bridge as a precaution. Weaknesses in the main support beam under the deck were cited as the reason.
After reopening it, the weight limit was lowered from 5 tons to 3 tons, the county’s lowest bridge classification. But by following Brunn’s recommendations, the weight limit will be raised to 20 tons, the bridge consultant said.
“If we make all these repairs, the county shouldn’t have to worry about this bridge for 20-plus years into the future,” Brunn said.
The case against constructing a modern, two-lane bridge to replace Possum Glory was largely financial.
“A replacement would cost over a million dollars — and that’s just for the bridge,” Hollander said. “It would cost extra to do the necessary road work to match the new structure.”
While the existing structure has become less popular with vehicles, it has gained in popularity with bicyclists, tourists and nature lovers.
“I farm a place close to that bridge,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said. “It is a beautiful and quiet setting.”
There are several financial downsides to the commissioners’ decision.
By keeping the truss shape, the bridge must undergo an inspection every two years that’s substantially more expensive than those conducted on modern concrete crossings, Lienhoop said.
The necessary work will require substantial alterations that will make it ineligible in the future to receive state or federal grants for historic preservation, Brunn said.
“But by rehabilitating the bridge, instead of replacing it, we’re going to save over $600,000 (compared to replacing it),” Lienhoop said. “That leaves us money we can spend on other bridges.”
The commissioners’ vote authorizes Strand Associates to begin preliminary work necessary to bid the project. That means no timetable has been established for the start or completion of the project.
Bartholomew County Bridge #47
Also called: Possum Glory Bridge, Galbraith Bridge, Clifty Creek Bridge
Purpose: To span Clifty Creek along County Road 1150E
Location: 1.5 miles north of Hartsville, just west of the Decatur County line
Weight limit: 3 tons, county’s minimum requirement for vehicle traffic
Average daily traffic: 70 vehicles
History: Built in 1910 by the Brookville Bridge Co. of Ohio
Design: Riveted, 8-panel Pratt through truss
- Length of largest span: 126.2 feet
- Total length: 130.8 feet
- Deck width: 16.0 feet
- Vertical clearance above deck: 16.8 feet