VALPARAISO — Twenty of the 128 road bridges across Porter County have fallen far enough into disrepair the state has ordered they undergo inspections once a year rather than the usual every other year.
None poses an immediate safety threat or requires closure, but the Porter County Board of Commissioners is wasting no time seeking repairs for three of the worst bridges as part of a wider $30 million capital upgrade plan.
The three commissioners, who inherited the problems, also agreed in July to double the amount of tax money earmarked for bridge work. Rather than increasing taxes, the commissioners will take the money from the wider amount already collected by county government and municipalities.
The goal is to have work underway on four of these bridges next summer, including the three in the worst shape, said Bob Thompson, executive director of Porter County’s Department of Development & Storm Water Management.
A fifth bridge is scheduled for repairs early the following year, he said.
"We're behind on the bridges," said Porter County Board of Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center.
Most of the problem had been a lack of funding, he said, and no one was making it a priority.
The funding has been increased since Good took office, and a reorganization is underway at the county highway engineering department, which had been responsible for bridge maintenance.
Short- and long-term approaches
Porter County government is responsible for the maintenance of each road bridge in the county with a span of 20 feet or more, even those located in cities and towns, Thompson said. Some of the bridges carry traffic over waterways and others over railroad tracks.
The inspections relied upon by the state take a look at the deck, the support system for the deck, the system holding up the entire structure and the culverts below, he said.
None of the bridges was found to be in bad enough shape to close, Thompson said, but 12 of the 20 worst have had weight limits placed on them.
Putting the situation into context, he said none of the current bridges is as bad as the old Sedley Bridge at County Road 475 West and Ind. 130, or the other wooden bridge that was at county roads 600 North and 500 East.
"Those were far worse than what we have here," he said.
The commissioners are hoping to make up for lost ground as quickly as possible by seeking $2.5 million to repair the three worst bridges from a larger $30 million loan for capital projects that received initial approval recently by the County Council.
County attorney Scott McClure has said the engineering work is underway on the bridges and the work should start soon.
The targeted bridges are on County Road 700 North, east of Ind. 149 over Salt Creek in Portage Township; County Road 800 South, west of Hebron over Cobbs Creek in Boone Township; and Old Porter Road, west of Ind. 149 over Salt Creek in Portage.
Undertaking these projects as part of the capital upgrade plan will allow time for the bridge fund to build up its reserves, said Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North.
Thompson said he is waiting to see how much additional revenue will show up in the bridge fund after doubling the amount earmarked for that work. Once those figures are in, he will use them to come up with a five-year plan aimed at further reducing the number of problem bridges on the list and getting the county back on track.