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LINCOLN, NEB - Lancaster County recently closed a bridge on Panama Road between Southwest 42nd and 56th streets. The bridge has some serious structural problems, but was closed because the stream is washing away from the bridge. Courtesy photo

A week ago, County Engineer Pam Dingman happily informed Lancaster County board members she had not closed any of the county's bridges this year.

But when Dingman got back to her office after that meeting, her bridge inspection team had bad news. The county needed to close a bridge known as W122.

The bridge, on Panama Road between Southwest 42nd and Southwest 58th streets, joined the list of 13 county bridges barricaded because they failed to meet federal safety standards.

The W122 bridge, on a gravel road, serves about 95 vehicles a day, Dingman said. 

The bridge was built in 1963 for about $6,000, with used steel beams, a common practice at the time to save money.

The bridge has some serious structural problems, but was closed because the stream below is eating away at the bridge. 

In fact, 11 of the 13 closed bridges have this problem, labeled scour-critical bridges, according to Dingman. 

During flooding in 2015, the bottom of Salt Creek dropped 3 feet, and other creeks that drain into Salt Creek are now lowering to meet up with it, she said.

The W122 bridge crosses one of those creeks.

The county inspects most bridges every two years. But bridges considered fracture-critical are inspected annually.

Bridges considered scour-critical — where water has scoured away rock and sediment around bridge supports — must be inspected after every 4-inch rainfall or every time water runs bank-full for four hours. 

This particular bridge was labeled both fracture-critical and scour-critical and was inspected because of recent heavy rains. 

During testing, a 5-foot probe shoved into a knothole in the bridge beams went 3 feet before hitting anything solid. That same probe, inserted behind the abutment, never hit anything solid, both examples of problems related to scouring, Dingman said. 

In addition there had been a fire, burning one of the timbers in the bridge's backwall. 

The county no longer incorporates used material into new bridge construction because it is unstable and not dependable, Dingman said.

But it was fairly common in the 1950s, '60s and '70s for counties to purchase used bridge parts from the state Department of Roads to help stretch dollars.

Dingman's staff closed the bridge last week, putting up barricades. If those aren’t effective, her staff will have to put a guard rail across the road.

Dingman reminded drivers, not only is it not safe to move the barricades and use the bridge, it is also a crime. 

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At least three of the 13 closed bridges will probably never reopen. The three are all on dirt roads with traffic counts of less than 10 vehicles a day, Dingman said.

Five of the closed bridges are under construction contracts, with hopes they will be reopened by the end of the year. Rains during the summer and fall have put construction a little behind schedule, she said.

The county is working on designs for two additional structures, she said.

The city plans to convert smaller bridge structures, less than 20 feet, to box culverts, which have a longer life and are more cost-effective than bridges, she said.

The county reopened one bridge this week, H120, on 176th Street just south of Waverly Road 

It is a truss bridge purchased in 1932 and used first in Emerald, then moved to Waverly.

The county spent $70,000 stabilizing the bank around that bridge, which Dingman has closed three times in less than four years. 

In fact she calls that bridge her “bad boyfriend bridge.” 

"The bridge is beautiful. It just doesn’t work anymore."

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On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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