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Structural defects won’t immediately close span

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Bartholomew County officials will try to keep the 104-year-old Newbern bridge open until replacing it either late this year or early in 2015, despite significant structural defects.

A visual inspection of the bridge last week by Bartholomew County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander showed problems including:

One end of a middle metal stringer stretching from the north side to the first pier had dropped 18 inches from under the deck due to severe rust.

Almost a half-inch of metal had rusted away on a west-side stringer where it connects under the north side of the bridge.

Metal braces on either side of the structure’s width had also broken off from their foundation.

Sections of metal latticework that provided support for two vertical support beams on the north side were missing.

However, the stringers that directly support the weight of vehicles crossing the one-lane bridge appear to be intact, Hollander said. During the visual inspection, Hollander said there was no danger of a vehicle falling through the deck.

While Hollander believes passenger cars may safely cross the bridge, he warned it is being kept open on a probationary basis. A decision could still be made to close the bridge if trucks weighing over the 3-ton limit continue to cross it and cause rapid deterioration, Hollander said.

“We’re going to monitor it pretty close,” Hollander said. “We may also add some flags and put more signs up that go back to the last intersection, so drivers won’t have to turn around.”

Bids for contracts to replace the span are expected to be received in September. Replacing the bridge is estimated as a $1.6 million project.

At last week’s Bartholomew County Commissioners meeting, Newbern area resident Cameron Stone said some school bus drivers had told him they were still driving over the bridge to avoid lengthy detours. The empty buses are three times the weight limit allowed on the bridge.

If that’s true, Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Superintendent John Quick said those bus drivers don’t work for his district.

“I have confirmed with our director that BCSC does not run buses over the Newbern bridge,” Quick wrote in an email to The Republic. “We ran the bus GPS data as an additional confirmation. The bridge is not on anyone’s route.”

Stating he shares concerns about the structural integrity, Quick said he drove to the Newbern area during the last quarter to make sure none of his drivers were endangering students.

“There are others that run yellow buses, so your source may have seen one of them,” Quick wrote.

While no school buses were seen last week during Hollander’s 30-minute visual inspection, at least three commercial trucks that exceeded the weight limit were observed crossing the bridge.

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