Weight limits of two bridges recommended to be lowered

Marion County has 12 bridges in poor condition, one of which should no longer be used by vehicles heavier than 5 tons, like school buses, according to the latest inspection conducted by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

The inspections are conducted by the state every two years. Results were presented to the Marion County Commission on Monday morning at the courthouse in Palmyra.

An 81-foot-long bridge located on County Road 402 was judged to be among the worst. The state recommended lowering its posted weight limit from 13 tons to 5 tons. The span, which crosses the South River, was found to have significant rusting and deterioration of the floor beams which were on underneath the bridge deck. The bridge's southwest bearing was found to have heavy cracking and deterioration.

"Two years ago, it was good at 13 tons. It's just hard for me to imagine that it deteriorated to that extent that it dropped 8 tons in its load limit," said Steve Begley, western district commissioner of Marion County.

At 5 tons, school buses could no longer cross the structure, and Begley questioned how that could affect area schools.

"It would be a long detour (for school buses)," said Aaron Hugenberg, a MoDOT bridge inspector. "We understand it really messes up traffic, but we are trying to keep everybody safe. We would rather err on the side of caution than have a bus load go through."

Begley estimated that if the bridge were moved to the top of the county's replacement list, it would take two years to complete the project. Begley inquired about making repairs sufficient to keep the weight limit high enough that buses and heavier farm vehicles could still use the bridge until it could be replaced.

"It's your bridge and you're welcome to repair it however you want," Hugenberg said. "However, MoDOT will have to come back to check and approve your repair. You may do a bunch of work, and we would still say it doesn't count. I would recommend hiring an engineer who could beef it up for you."

Begley asked about appealing the state's 5-ton weight limit recommendation. Hugenberg said if the county hired an engineer who was willing to certify that the state's findings were inappropriate, MoDOT would accept those findings. Hugenberg added that several engineers in Jefferson City had reviewed his recommendation and "we're pretty confident with it."

The county has a limited amount of time to take action regarding the lowered 5-ton weight restriction. "You have 30 days from today to drop it and be in good standing with MoDOT," Hugenberg said. "If you fall out of good standing with MoDOT, it affects your funding (from the state)."

The bridge, constructed in 1930, is not the only one for which the department recommended lowering the weight limit.

A 40-foot long bridge on County Road 230 is proposed to have its weight limit decreased from 21 tons to 15 tons. That span, which was constructed in 1925, has significant cracking and deterioration to its west abutment.