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Building bridges to the future: County crew works hard in 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Photo by Tammy Curtis The nearly complete Piney River Bridge on Bear Creek near Evening Shade is one of the larger projects in Sharp County for 2012. The bridge has been completely replaced and raised. An elderly Evening Shade couple lost their lives after a wash off on the bridge, and another woman narrowly escaped after a wash off on the bridge in 2009. [Order this photo]
Facing tremendous damage over the past three years to its road and bridge infrastructure, Sharp County has benefited from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds and grants to make repairs and improve roadways.

Sharp County Road Superintendent Dan Melbourne said many 2012 road and bridge improvements have been made, thanks to funding from FEMA, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, and stimulus grants administered through White River Planning and Development. The road department's bridge crew has saved taxpayers money by constructing their own prefabricated box forms to construct concrete culverts needed for bridge and drainage repairs.

Melbourne explained most of the county's rural bridges need attention because the infrastructure, including metal pipes, caused severe damage to bridges that date back to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Melbourne said, this year, the county concentrated on areas where high waters during storms keep residents from getting out of their homes. Many of the bridges in rural areas were constructed during a time when horse and buggies were the main users and only one lane was needed. "Nowadays, we need to move people faster, and need wider roads and bridges," Melbourne said.

After the 2011 flood, Sharp County filed for hazard mitigation funds to help with some of the most desperately needed bridge repairs in the county. One example is a bridge on Needmore Road near Evening Shade. Flooding caused it to collapse, and it had to be torn down. The county replaced it with a 10-foot by 12-foot "double barrel" box culvert that bridge crews constructed in house.

When a bridge replacement is identified, FEMA sends out a representative who surveys the damages and performs a needs assessment. A hydrology study is then conducted through the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to determine the flow rate. If justified, FEMA pays the county money to put the project together. Melbourne said, "This is at no cost to the taxpayers. We get reimbursed through FEMA. Through hazardous mitigation money, we do it all in house. We buy the boxes from a company in Jonesboro, then build the culverts, rent a crane and our four man bridge crew installs the bridges." Besides the Needmore Road project, the county also completed a second hazard mitigation funded bridge on Sandhole Road at the south end of the county. The combined cost was $230,000 in FEMA funds..

Melbourne explained the county decided to begin constructing its own box culverts in 2009, when the bridge crew decided it had the skills to do the work. One of the men on the bridge crew used to be a machinist, so the crew constructed three prefabricated forms to make their own culverts. "We had to make them so we could set them with a track hoe," Melbourne said. He explained that saves money since the county does not have to rent a crane. The three by four foot forms weigh about 6,000 pounds. The crew has completed eight projects on its own throughout the county in 2012.

One large project near Williford used ADEM funds to replace concrete tile that was installed in the 70s. After building 12 boxes, installing three drainge "barrels" and building the road up, residents can now get out of their homes when Spring River backwaters begin to rise. Melbourne explained the project was a 50/ 50 grant. The county supplied the labor, materials and fill, and ADEM provided the forms.

"There is pipe that has been in the ground for decades in places in the county. Metal rusts, plastic can burn, but the box culverts we make are much easier to handle, smooth on inside and flow well. They work so much better," Melbourne said

The newest project, which is almost complete, is the Piney River Bridge located on Bear Creek Road west of Evening Shade. An elderly couple lost their lives when their vehicle was washed off the bridge as they tried to cross it while fast water was running across the bridge. The new bridge is much larger in scale than the others, and was contracted out to Beverly Construction of Batesville, with Sharp County crews completing dirt work. Crews were working last week putting the finishing touches on the bridge that, according to Melbourne, should be open by the first of the year, weather permitting.

Bids were opened last week for a bridge on Wilson Well Road near Cave City. Melbourne said construction to raise the old bridge will begin in the spring.

Melbourne said there are many road and bridge repairs the crews are eager to get to in the future, and he praises his workers for their efforts to get bridges replaced or repaired more quickly and at a reduced cost.

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