Forum next week to review Smith's Bridge 'second opinion'

A public forum on the Smith’s Bridge “second opinion” inspection is set for Sept. 10 at Ferrysburg City Hall. The bridge has been closed since June due to deterioration.

The results of a “second opinion” engineering inspection for Ferrysburg’s Smith’s Bridge are in, but the fate of the structure is still unknown.

Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger said the report, paid for by local citizens, seems to echo the report of the engineering inspection paid for by the city.

“I think it parallels the Williams and Works report,” Bessinger said.

More details will be revealed at a public forum scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Ferrysburg City Hall.

The City Council decided to close the bridge in June after an engineering report indicated more deterioration had occurred over the winter. Although the Williams and Works report did not officially recommend closing the bridge to vehicle traffic, council members said they wanted to err on the side of safety, leaving the bridge open to only pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The “second opinion” from the Fleis and VandenBrink firm offered several options, which Bessinger said mostly mirrored the Williams and Works report. The new report offers two options for further core testing, which could help determine if the bridge could be safely reopened to vehicles.

“The question of whether the bridge can safely carry vehicular traffic hinges on the condition of the top flanges of the prestressed concrete box beams, which happens to be one of the least accessible components of the bridge,” the report notes.

It then lays out two potential ways of testing the condition of the top flanges, which it says would cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

“Depending on the results of the testing, the bridge could potentially be reopened while the city continues to pursue replacement funds, likely with increased load restrictions,” the report states. “We would view this as a two- to five-year solution, again depending on the results of the testing.”

The report then outlines several potential short-term fixes to extend the life of the bridge, with price tags of $300,000 to $600,000.

“The engineer will explain these options at the public forum, and we’ll hear what he’s referring to and how that would work,” Bessinger said. “We’ll listen to what he says. He’ll explain everything so everyone understands what he’s referring to in his report.”

Bessinger said he won’t comment further about the report until he hears more details.

“I’m not an engineer,” the city manager said. “I’m still going through the report, but I think it was well done. It seems to follow the inspection report that was done by the previous engineers.”

Bessinger said the theme seems to be the same: The bridge is deteriorating.

“I think they’re finding the same issues out there with the bridge,” he said. “Alternatives have been discussed – steel plates, core samples of the box beams. We talked about the core sampling and box beams. The steel plates have been discussed before. The concrete overlay I’m not familiar with.”

Members of the Citizens to Save Smith’s Bridge committee, who contributed $1,200 to pay for the “second opinion” inspection, said they are encouraged by the report.

“I would say we’re definitely more hopeful,” committee member Jake Stearley said. “We feel the report gives us more options to ultimately reopen the bridge. The prior options were presented as more of a binary choice – close the bridge or choose to rebuild it at a $13 million price tag.

“We feel hopeful and we feel that the next step should be to proceed with more testing,” he continued. “We are hopeful that the bridge will be able to be opened or repaired in a timely manner, which will give Ferrysburg more time to ultimately prepare for the replacement of this bridge.”

Stearley said he and fellow committee members look forward to learning more about the options at next week’s public forum.

“We think it’s impossible to latch onto an option at this point,” he said. “We feel further testing will guide our next steps. I think it’s hard for the general public to digest engineering jargon. At the forum, what needs to happen is for them to translate the engineering jargon to the public so everyone can understand in clear terms exactly what’s going on with the bridge.” 

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