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Bridge process pushed

In a meeting with Ironton City Council on Thursday night, Ohio Department of Transportation representatives indicated Gov. Ted Strickland has instructed the department to find a way to replace the Ironton-Russell Bridge sooner.

ODOT sent several people to answer the council’s questions, but the two main speakers were Tim Keller, ODOT Central Office state bridge engineer, and Gary Cochenour, ODOT District 9 production administrator.

“Gov. Strickland has asked ODOT to investigate what we can do to advance the schedule of this replacement schedule,” Cochenour said. “We are not able to announce any advance schedule at this time.”

Cochenour said ODOT is exploring options to have the new bridge in place before the previously announced date of 2013, which was the earliest the replacement process would have begun.

Keller said later in the meeting that Strickland had asked for a more cost-effective, efficient bridge design that would come in within the budgeted $85 million. He said that it takes about two years to go from design to putting out bids. But ODOT officials weren’t able to give an exact time when the process would begin.

“We have a redesign team under contract,” Cochenour said. “We are at the very preliminary stage where we are looking at what type of bridge we can go with.”

Keller said that as a bridge inspector, his thought is whether a bridge is safe enough that he would allow his family to drive across it.

“If the bridge wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be open,” he said, noting the bridge is physically inspected every year and this year a team of divers will inspect the underwater parts of the piers. “If it gets to the point it isn’t safe, we will shut it down and repair it.”

He said the bridge is constantly being monitored by stress gauges and that ODOT will be doing $1 million worth of upgrades next month.

Those include work on the bridge deck, grid panels, specific fatigue areas, various seals and one bearing.

The Ironton-Russell Bridge is rated by ODOT as being a “4” which is poor condition and has had that rating since 1991.

“That’s why the state is looking at what needs to be done,” Keller said, adding that when a bridge gets to the “1” or “0” range it is shut down.

The replacement process for the 85-year-old bridge began originally in 2000. The final design for the bridge was one that had a single tower in the center and the bridge deck was supported by miles of cables, similar to the ones in Proctorville and Portsmouth. ODOT said the decision to build a cable-stayed bridge was based on cost, aesthetics and easy maintenance.

One end of the new bridge would be near the intersection with U.S. 23 and Kentucky Route 244 in Russell and the other end would be at the intersection of Second and Jefferson streets in Ironton. In Ironton, property was acquired, houses were razed and businesses moved to make way for the bridge, which was to have construction begin in the fall of 2005.