BISMARCK, ND (AP) State officials were lucky that part of a Missouri River bridge didn’t collapse before it was closed to traffic, the director of the Department of Transportation said.
The Liberty Memorial Bridge is likely to remain shut until early May while engineers figure the best way to make repairs, David Sprynczynatyk said.
They could cost millions of dollars, depending on the findings from new tests of the bridge’s supporting piers, he said.
Sprynczynatyk said he did not believe the bridge is in danger of collapsing as long as it is closed to traffic.
He believes it is safe to pass beneath the bridge while it is closed, he said.
However, “I would not feel comfortable driving across it,” Sprynczynatyk said. “I would not recommend that anyone drive across it. You’re at risk.”
Workers who bored into the top of one of the bridge’s supporting piers found it had deteriorated into chunks of concrete, many of them smaller than a person’s fist.
Sprynczynatyk ordered it closed to traffic, less than two hours after he got the news. The bridge also has been closed to pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We are fortunate that nothing has happened up to this point. We’re glad we caught it when we did,” Sprynczynatyk said.
Similar tests of three other piers are planned before the Department of Transportation decides on how repairs should be done.
The bridge is more than 80 years old, and is scheduled for replacement.
Bids on the work are scheduled to be opened April 28, with construction beginning this summer.
However, Sprynczynatyk said the new bridge is not likely to be open for traffic until late 2007 at the earliest.
The possibility that the bridge will stay closed until its replacement opens is remote, the transportation director said. Officials have not yet decided on the maximum amount they are willing to spend to reopen the bridge, he said.
The Liberty Memorial Bridge connects the west edge of central Bismarck with Memorial Highway in Mandan, a commercial area referred to locally as the Strip.
Business people in the area said a prolonged closing may cut their customer traffic. For much of Bismarck, the bridge was the quickest way to access Memorial Highway, they said.
“I’ve noticed since [the bridge] has been shut down that we have been a little slower,” said Rick Wolf, general manager of the Speedway Restaurant and Lounge. “The consensus is, it’s going to hurt a little bit. I know it’s not going to help us any, that’s for sure.”
Two other bridges connect Bismarck and Mandan — the Grant Marsh bridge, which carries Interstate 94 across the Missouri River in north Bismarck, and the Expressway Bridge to the south.
The Liberty Memorial bridge carries approximately 15,000 vehicles daily, Sprynczynatyk said.
The Grant Marsh bridge carries approximately 28,000, while the Expressway Bridge carries approximately 16,000 vehicles daily, he said.