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Etowah Residents Concerned about Hwy 140 Bridges

Etowah city officials and concerned citizens gathered at the fire station on Tuesday to meet with Department of Transportation engineers. The topic was to discuss the condition of two bridges located on Highway 140 toward Keiser.

Attending the meeting were Brad Smithee, District 10 engineer, and Allen Walter, District 10 project manager.

The meeting was organized by city council member Jennifer McCullar who welcomed Smithee and Walter. She expressed her appreciation to them for attending the meeting to answer questions and hear the concerns about the condition of the bridges.

She introduced newly elected Mississippi County Judge John Nelson who spoke briefly.

“I am aware of the condition of the bridges,” Judge Nelson said. “When

we were campaigning we drove along Highway 140 a lot and I know how bad the bridges are. I have spoken with our state officials, Senator Dave

Wallace, Representative Johnny Rye, and Representative Monte Hodges, and they are all aware of the situation. They could not attend tonight

because they are in legislative session. There is a great deal of traffic on Highway 140 and right now, it is not safe. Thank you for inviting me tonight.”

Smithee spoke about District 10 which covers a seven-county area including Mississippi County. Smithee oversees the highway and bridges in District 10.

Smithee said District 10 has 900 bridges with 100 needing replaced.

“That does not mean they are unsafe,” Smithee said. They are getting older.”

He said the bridges under discussion are not the worst in the district.

Smithee talked about the bridge inspection process. He said even new bridges are inspected every two years. As bridges age, inspections are conducted more often. Inspections include everything from bolts to beams.

Smithee and Walter both emphasized if a bridge is deemed structurally unsafe, it is closed.

Bridge inspection ratings run from 0-9 with 9 being the best. Smithee said elements inspected include the deck (drive on), superstructure (beams), and the substructure (pilings).

When asked the status of the inspections of the two bridges in question, he said the eastern bridge was inspected on June 27, 2018. Smithee said the statewide improvement plan (STIP) works on a five-year schedule. Projects are scheduled years in advance. The two bridges in question are scheduled to be replaced in 2022 if funding is available. He encouraged people to check out STIP on the website. He said there is a place for public comments. A citizen asked what are the chances of the bridges lasting that long. He was asked why some bridges in neighboring areas have been overlaid and repaired when these two have not. Walter said those jobs were done with pavement preservation funding which added federal money for highways. The funding helped improve the bridges on those highways.

Smithee said 52 bridges are in the book for 2021-2022 to be replaced. He was asked if the funding will be there.

“We expect it to happen,” he said.

McClullar asked if an overlay was out of the question.

Smithee said asphalt on the bridge deck shortens the life of a bridge. Walter added temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees for asphalt to work.

“People have blown tires on the bridge,” McCullar said.

It was also said big trucks travel over the bridges. McCullar asked if they could expect both bridges to be overlaid starting in May.

"That would be the goal but it may not happen," Smithee said. "The bridge has to be able to sustain the overlay."

Several more questions were asked and comments were made. The meeting ended with Judge Nelson saying he had attended two meetings and heard Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway Department, speak about this problem.

“We do have a critical problem,” Judge Nelson said. “You made a key point. There are nice bridges around here. We have 45 people here tonight and I appreciate all of you coming. There is a lot of traffic out there. I think we can get 245 people to meet. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I am not putting the blame here but these bridges need to be replaced. We need to get a stronger voice. Let's keep the grassroots moving. With these voices, I think we can get it done.”

The discussion was held concerning partnerships with industry to help with some of the cost.

Judge Nelson said the county will help all they can. Someone commented highways will be one of the top priorities in the legislative session this year. Another meeting will be scheduled in the near future and everyone concerned is encouraged to attend.

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