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Smith's Bayou Bridge closed today for inspection

Marie Havenga • Oct 10, 2018 at 7:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — A reminder to motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists — the Smith's Bridge will be closed until 7 tonight for inspection.

“People won't be able to cross the bridge,” said Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger. “Everyone on the northeast side of the bridge should take 168th Avenue to VanWagoner.”

The other option is Highland to Ferry.

Susan Tebbe, an engineer for Williams and Works, will be inspecting the bridge all day. Bridge repairs have been discussed by Ferrysburg City Council for quite some time, but Tebbe will share her most recent observations after the inspection.

“The reason they're closing the bridge is we're using some equipment owned by MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) to get under the bridge and look at it,” Bessinger said. “It's a lift that takes three people on a platform to look underneath the bridge. It's hard to see from a boat.”

Bessinger said the traffic rerouting will definitely inconvenience many residents.

Last November, Ferrysburg voters defeated a millage request, 607-355, that would have levied up to 3 mills for 20 years to replace the Smith's Bayou Bridge, a project estimated at $10 million-plus.

Besides general maintenance, in 2008 the city put a new deck and asphalt on the bridge, and also did some pier repair.

An engineering firm has determined that the bridge has deteriorated to the point that it needs to be replaced.

“The superstructure needs to be replaced,” Bessinger said, “... and we want to replace the piers that support the bridge so we can extend the life of that bridge for another 50, 60 or 70 years.”

Although the millage proposal failed, Bessinger said city leaders still have to find funds to pay for the bridge.

“We're going to keep trying to look for funding opportunities, whether it's grants, millage, or a combination of both,” he explained. “The engineer recommends it needs to be replaced. She's the expert and we have to find a way to make it happen.”

Actual reconstruction would not begin until 2021, according to Bessinger.  That should give the city enough time to seek millage or bonds to help fund its portion of the project, he said. 

City Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy said Bessinger has been working hard on obtaining grants, which so far has been unsuccessful.

“The bridge is really a concern,” Kennedy said. “It's always on our minds how we can keep it open, but that depends. We'll have to make some decisions and go from there.”

According to traffic counts, 8,000 cars per day cross Smith's Bridge, Kennedy noted.

“You would think the state would think that's a big-enough number,” she said. “We'll keep trying. We're just hoping we don't have to shut the thing down.”

Kennedy noted that the bridge already has seen decreased load limits in recent years — from 40 tons to 35, and now 30 — in an effort to extend its life.

“We even have one fire truck that can't go over it,” the councilwoman said. “That truck will have to circle around.”

Kennedy said the engineer also recommends lowering the speed limit over the bridge to 35 mph to potentially extend its life.

“I just don't see that happening,” she said.

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