MADISON — A bridge on Route 17 in Madison adjacent to Madison City Park is set to be replaced in 2021 with emergency funding, according to officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
The Lt. Darwin K. Kyle Memorial Bridge was erected in 1983, according to WVDOT records.
Currently, the busy section of bridge safely carries a daily average of 3,900 cars. As of early November, the bridge was limited to one-way traffic controlled by a timer and traffic lights on each end.
Under the National Bridge Inspection Program, West Virginia bridges are inspected every two years at the minimum. DOT Engineer Tracy Brown is very familiar with the structure and accessed the history of the bridge for the Coal Valley News.
“In 2018 we inspected it and found some deterioration on the exterior beams of each side,” he said. “Those bridges were concrete boxes put together and you are actually driving across the box beams. The two on the upstream side and the two on the downstream side showed concrete spalling.”
Concrete spalling typically begins when the steel reinforcement embedded within the concrete member rusts.
It was at that time that the bridge went from a routine two-year inspection interval to a six-month inspection interval.
“This ensures that the bridge remains safe for everyone,” Brown said. “That is always our primary concern. The deterioration continued to increase and in June 2020, we inspected it and we review a report with photos and narrative. The structure is rated based on condition and our evaluation engineers run the numbers to determine what it can safely carry.”
Through this process, a weight restriction was posted on the bridge to ensure the safety of motorists.
“We were at the point where we had to reduce that significantly and shut it down to larger vehicles,” he said. “We decided to narrow it to one lane so we wouldn’t have to reduce the weight restrictions. We are cognizant of not disturbing the local economy. Safety trumps everything and this allowed trucks to still travel the bridge. We felt the least impact would be to reduce the bridge to one lane.”
Brown added that this would allow firetrucks to still travel the bridge without taking longer routes to a residential fire across the river.
The bridge is listed as a Coal Resource Transportation System route and, depending on the axle configuration of the vehicle, is rated for 17 tons up to 22 tons. Without the temporary reduction to one lane, the bridge would have been rated for less than 10 tons.
“If we dipped below 10 tons, it would impact schools buses as well,” he added.
Brown said emergency funding was found for the project and that it is currently in the design phase, but is being expedited based on the need.
“We look to go to contract to replace the whole bridge in 2021,” Brown said.
The engineer said the natural process of any project involves a permitting phase through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, environmental and/or right-of-way permits and on occasion, utility line relocation efforts.
Brown said bridges are generally designed for a 75-year life and some remain safely for 100 years. The engineer said there are many factors that affect the life of a bridge and that the constant, heavy weight-bearing that larger trucks and vehicles present, along with the contrast of humid and then colder climate in West Virginia are all factors in the bridge in Madison seeing just a 37-year lifespan.
“When that bridge was built and designed, we wouldn’t put that type of bridge in today — even though in its time, that was what was needed — because it was later (2004) that the limit was raised to 120,000 pounds and they had no way of knowing that in 1983,” he said. “The new bridge will be designed to withstand 120,000 pounds and be a much better bridge.”
The current bridge was called an “adjacent pre-stressed box beam structure.” The replacement will be a multi-beam style bridge with a concrete deck.
District 7 Sen. Dr. Ron Stollings became concerned in relation to the reduction to one lane and contacted engineers with the state to get a status update for a bridge he’s traveled frequently in his home town, where he also works.
“I felt that our citizens needed to know the details and prepare for the long term,” Stollings said last week via text message. “Some people may choose to change their driving plans due to the traffic issues.”