City mulling over solutions for Smith's Bridge

(Tribune file photo) Left to right: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; state Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township; and Ferrysburg Mayor Rebecca Hopp walk over the closed Smith’s Bridge earlier this year. 

Smith’s Bridge remains in a holding pattern – at least for the time being.

A standing-room-only crowd attended a forum Tuesday night at Ferrysburg City Hall, where Fleis & Vandenbrink engineers presented findings of their Aug. 1 “second opinion” bridge inspection and options for potentially reopening it, should the structure’s condition cooperate.

The bridge has been steadily deteriorating over the years and the Ferrysburg City Council closed it to vehicular traffic in early June, due to safety concerns.

Jon Moxie, lead structural engineer for Fleis & Vandenbrink, said additional test results would be the determining factor.

“If we find significant concrete, that would be our hope (to reopen),” he said. “Now that it is closed, there’s certainly a heightened awareness, a heightened bar, that we need to cross to get it reopened to traffic.”

Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger said the City Council likely will make a decision at its Oct. 7 meeting whether or not to commit funding for further testing, which could run $10,000 to $15,000.

Moxie said they could peel off the asphalt to get a better idea of the condition of the structure, versus poking holes in the structure, which could cause further damage.

“We’ll see what direction City Council wants to go with it,” Bessinger said. “It will be their decision. Before any decision to open that bridge is made, the engineers are recommending further testing. That would be the first step.”

Residents made it clear the bridge being closed is a hindrance not only to Ferrysburg residents, but to surrounding community members.

The city has submitted grant applications the past several years, but those were for $10 million for the $13 million cost of completely replacing the bridge.

Moxie said if the underlying bridge condition is good enough, it’s possible a $1 million investment could extend its life by 15-20 years. He said the asphalt could be peeled off, additional support added to the beams and a concrete overlay applied to the entire surface.

“Whether that’s even possible, no one knows at this time until we do further testing,” Bessinger said. “They were just giving ballpark figures. They would have to do some more work, then revise cost estimates.”

Testing could take place this fall, if the City Council concurs.

Moxie said he’s hopeful.

“We think there’s still some useful life out there to be had,” the engineer said, adding that the state’s bridge program officials will be reviewing potential projects Oct. 14. “There’s a chance the bridge gets slated and it moves forward with replacement. But based on the dollar value, we’re not sure if the bridge program could handle it. We’re not banking on that.”

An “emergency application” to the state is another option, but Moxie indicated that is normally used in the instance of a sudden catastrophe, not a bridge that has been deteriorating over many years. However, he did note that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s summer visit to Smith’s Bridge brought the structure into the state limelight.

“It’s a high-profile bridge,” Moxie said. “We think that (governor visit) adds some merit.”

Moxie said it’s possible that if the city is turned down again for its $10 million grant request, that a $1 million request for potentially extending the bridge’s life could be more favorable to the Michigan Department of Transportation. He said the $10 million request accounts for about 25 percent of bridge funds available statewide.

“If we can lower that, I think it will be very attractive,” Moxie said.

Moxie said he doesn’t fault the city for closing the bridge, acknowledging it’s always better to err on the side of public safety, even if it’s inconvenient for motorists.

“It’s much better to be on the news for closing a bridge than having a vehicle have a bad accident,” he said.

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