Demolition versus disaster Citizens, county public works debate bridge decision

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WALDPORT — Residents rallied this month to prevent the tearing down of a 53-year-old wooden bridge in Waldport. The bridge has become the subject of controversy and its future is still undecided.
The bridge on May Road was constructed in 1965; Lincoln County Public Works Director Roy Kinion explained that wooden bridges typically don’t last nearly that long on the Oregon coast due to the area’s damp conditions. And while it may not seem unstable to the average eye, the last two inspections of the bridge by ODOT resulted in a sustainability of 24.2 out of 100 — replacement is typically advised at 50. The most common defect listed in the evaluation of various parts of the bridge is ‘decay/section loss.’ Kinion explained that the danger with wood bridges is that there’s no way to know when they’ll give out until they do. “With wooden structures, they tend to have catastrophic failures,” said Kinion. “Meaning things all of a sudden just collapse, versus steel and concrete structures where usually you will see some settling and bending or cracking or that sort of thing.”
This project has been in the works for a long time, but was put on hold until a road was put in on the south side of Drift Creek so that there would still be access to the southern area the bridge serves from Bayview and May Roads.
But there has been some controversy about what to do about the bridge. Public works has already gotten permits and approval to demolish the bridge, but county residents are rallying to keep it — even holding a small protest at the bridge on Oct. 8. Six people came before the Lincoln County Commission meeting on Oct. 10 to say the bridge should stand.
Access and emergency preparedness topped the list of reasons residents said the bridge removal should be canceled or delayed. McKenzie Johns was the first to speak. Though she had a number of reasons to maintain or replace the bridge, her chief issue was emergency preparedness. “My main concern is that we do not, in Lincoln County, have any alternative escape routes whatsoever in place,” said Johns. “I understand that Highway 101 traffic, diverting it (to the bridge), would not be the most ideal. But when we’re talking about people’s lives and safety— how many accidents happened between 143rd Street and 98th Street this summer? How long were people sitting in traffic waiting for those accidents to be cleared? Too long. We need to see what we can do funding-wise through either the state or grants, or what we can do to work with the public works department, what we can do to work with our county, so that we can find a way to either help maintain (the bridge) or some kind of replacement for it. We are dwindling our escape routes on the coast by more and more of these roads being blocked off and closed.”
If the bridge is demolished, there will no longer be a loop connecting Highway 101 north of the Alsea Bay Bridge to the Highway 101 on south of the bridge. However, there is still access to the area in question, coming from the south. While there would still be road access to the south side of the May Road bridge, even if the bridge itself isn’t there, the way there is not ideal for the people who use it. Not only is it 2.5 miles longer than May Road, but those speaking before the council said that the road is barely in drivable condition. “That road is rougher and more impassable than most of the roads that you guys are trying to decommission right now,” said Corey Johns. “There’s about a mile-and-a-half section on the very bottom of that that has got about 18-36 inches of mud on it right now.”
The commissioners directed Kinion to meet with citizens about their concerns and report back to the board. Kinion told the News-Times that he expects that report to be given sometime in November. Because of the changed timeline, Kinion said that he expects that the bridge won’t be torn out until next year if the plan is approved to proceed.
Part of the delay on the report is that the county has had a secondary inspector come out to evaluate the bridge as well, similar to getting a second opinion from a doctor — but Kinion doesn’t believe the results will be any different. “It’s been coming for a long time,” said Kinion. “It didn’t just all of a sudden become bad. It was posted at five tons in 2002, so it’s been 15 years that it’s been at that rating and wood rots. And so it’s been a long, slow process.”

By: Stephanie Blair Newport News Times

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