Closer look: Beaver Bridge reopened after inspection
Beaver Bridge was reopened Thursday following an inspection by the Arkansas Department of Transportation after two buses exceeding the structure’s weight limit drove across it Saturday, Oct. 13. A video recording of the buses crossing the bridge was shared on Facebook.
A press release issued by the transportation department Thursday says bridge engineers completed their review Wednesday, Oct. 17, following a special inspection. It says crews have also completed scheduled maintenance of the structure, and the bridge opened to traffic shortly after noon Thursday.
Spokesman Danny Straessle said the transportation department has had a crew doing routine maintenance on Beaver Bridge since Oct. 1.
“We already had a crew out there. Then the video surfaced over the weekend,” he said. “Monday morning, they went out to take a look if there were any obvious signs of damage, like broken boards, bolts missing or things like that.”
Straessle said the crew didn’t find anything, so preliminary indications were that there wasn’t anything unusual. However, he said the video of the buses crossing triggered a special inspection.
“We did dispatch a bridge inspection team from our heavy bridge maintenance group,” he said. “They are the ones trained on what to look for and get a more in-depth analysis. They did what we call a ‘special inspection,’ which did yield some areas that required a closer look by an actual bridge engineer.”
Straessle continued, “It does not necessarily mean that anything we find is attributable to the buses.”
He said the engineers had to determine if what they were seeing was already there and would have been found during the department’s annual inspection or if it occurred because of the two buses crossing.
The issue with the buses crossing, he said, is that Beaver Bridge is rated for a 10-ton weight limit, and the buses each weigh about 54,000 pounds, or 27 tons, when fully loaded at capacity.
“That’s more than twice the loaded limit,” Straessle said. “The bridge will hold a little more than 10 tons. We set it at that limit because we don’t want regular traffic of more than 10 tons crossing that bridge and putting that kind of continuous strain on the structural members.”
The historic bridge was constructed in 1949, he said, out of cast iron rather than structural steel. As a result, he said the transportation department has to have new parts fabricated when they have to replace them.
“That makes it a bit tricky, but we’ve been maintaining this bridge for a long time so we’re pretty good at that,” he said. “Based on what the engineers find, if there are some structural members that need to be replaced then the bridge would continue its closure while that work is being performed.”
Straessle continued, “It’s good that we were already out there performing routine maintenance because we’ve pretty much got what we need out there already. Once an analysis is confirmed by the bridge engineers then we will formulate a plan and execute it.”
He said people have been concerned with how the bridge dips down in the video as the buses cross.
“In the video, you see the bridge ‘deflect,’ or dip down,” he said. “It’s supposed to do that. This is a suspension bridge. None of our bridges are rigid. They all move. You may not be able to feel it when you drive over, but if you were a pedestrian walking over a bridge as the cars drive over it you would feel the bridge deflecting.”
Straessle continued, “You want it to do that. You don’t want it to be rigid. We weren’t necessarily concerned about the amount of deflection we saw in the video. It was more so knowing that the bus probably weighed twice what we had posted.”
He said that is the concern the transportation department is investigating.
“We’re going to take a look at it and see what we can find,” he said. “We appreciate the community’s patience while we get that done. They’re no strangers to the bridge being out of service. This is just another time that it has to be out of service while we see what we need to do.”
Straessle said Beaver Bridge was out of service for a length of time after heavy flooding in the spring of 2017.
“There was all kind of debris pushed up against that thing,” he said. “It was amazing the pressure that it withstood from the water coursing through it with the debris. That’s a testament to the durability of the construction of that bridge.”
Straessle continued, “It’s been through a lot. This is probably not the first time overweight vehicles have crossed that bridge, and we’ve heard reports in the past. But this is the first one where you have video evidence of something like that happening.”
Maj. George Frye, the sheriff’s chief deputy, said Wednesday that the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has identified the company that operates the two buses and has turned its reports over to the Arkansas Highway Police. The investigation is still active, he said.