Temporary fix will enable bridge to remain open during hospital construction and road upgrades

by: JASON CHANEY - ODOT officials conducted a load rating test on the Combs Flat bridge in early May to determine whether it was necessary to close the structure.

Two months ago, City of Prineville staff faced the possibility of closing a local bridge to all traffic pending its replacement.

In the end, they dodged that bullet, but citizens can expect a new bridge on Combs Flat Road within the next couple years.

With work on the new St. Charles Hospital in full swing, the City of Prineville had turned its attention street improvements near the facility. Among those was the widening of the Combs Flat bridge that crosses Ochoco Creek.

“We are going to a three-lane cross section and we’ll have to do improvements at the Third Street signal,” said City Engineer Eric Klann.

Their plans coincided with a biannual bridge inspection by ODOT – a requirements for all bridges statewide. That inspection didn’t initially yield encouraging results.

“Because of (the hospital construction), they started taking a more in-depth look at the bridge,” Klann said. “They saw some big fractures that they hadn’t seen before. With this much closer look, they found some things that were very, very concerning to them.”

The findings prompted the federal bridge official representing Oregon to order ODOT’s Region 4 manager, Gary Farnsworth, to close the bridge to all traffic until it could be replaced.

“The state bridge engineer didn’t feel that it was that critical, so they determined to leave it open and do some load ratings,” said City Street Supervisor Scott Smith.

Those ratings took place about a month ago, and to the surprise of those involved, the results were not as grim as initially believed.

“The news is good,” Farnsworth wrote in an email to city staff. “In short, we appear to have come up with a straight-forward, low-cost, short-term strengthening fix, which should work quite well until the permanent replacement, while at the same time allowing for avoidance of a load restriction/posting.”

The city is currently rerouting seven oversize, overweight vehicles through community roads in order to keep them off of the bridge, but they are pleased they don’t have to divert any other traffic. Smith explained that the rerouted vehicles have to travel down Lynn Boulevard, South Main Street, First Street, and Deer Street – all of which are maintained by the city as opposed to Third Street and Combs Flat, which are both part of state highways.

“There’s a lot of wear and tear,” he said. “We don’t get any sort of funding for that.”

At this time, Smith has heard of some potential short-term fixes, but nothing his decided for certain. Consequently, he declined to give specifics. However, he did note that the short-term repair will see them through hospital construction and longer if necessary.

The new hospital is scheduled to open in fall 2015. Although the conversions to a three-lane road and intersection improvements at Combs Flat and Third Street will be completed by then, the bridge may have to wait.

The city not only has to complete design and engineering work, they have to navigate the permitting process, which is complicated by the reintroduction of steelhead into Ochoco Creek. Assuming the bridge has to wait, Combs Flat will likely narrow at both ends of the bridge, a two-lane crossing, until replaced.

“Hopefully, the bridge will be replaced as quickly as possible,” Klann concluded.

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