More tests ahead for Smith's Bridge

Ferrysburg City Council on Monday approved further testing for Smith’s Bridge to determine its structural integrity.

The Ferrysburg City Council has approved further inspections for Smith’s Bridge, which gives a small slice of hope to residents who would like to see it reopened.

City leaders mailed out nine requests for proposals for additional bridge integrity testing. The Fleis and VandenBrink engineering firm was the only company to respond, according to City Manager Craig Bessinger.

“There are 15 sections of the bridge that our public works department has identified for further testing,” Bessinger said. “Fleis and VandenBrink will be coming in to look at those 15 sites.”

After making a motion to approve the $6,800 expenditure to determine the integrity of the top of the prestressed concrete box beams, Monday night’s council discussion led to a revised motion – to request that the engineering firm first conduct a load rating analysis prior to proceeding with under-the-asphalt testing of the 15 sections. The load rating test is expected to cost about $800.

“If the load rating isn’t sufficient with the understructure, everything else is just throwing money down the rat hole,” said Councilman Mike DeWitt, who made, then revised, his original motion after the discussion.

The city closed the bridge to vehicular traffic in June due to public safety concerns. It remains open for pedestrians and bicycles.

“There’s asphalt over the box beams, and in the middle of the beams it’s hollow,” Bessinger said. “The concern when City Council closed the bridge was that a tire could break through the top of the box beam where it’s bad and get stuck in the cavity of that box beam.”

Although no further inspection date has been set at this time, Bessinger said he anticipates the work will happen yet this fall.

Following the inspection, City Council will be filled in on the findings. The council is expected to decide to proceed with the core testing if findings make it feasible.

Bessinger declined to say if he’s hopeful the bridge could be reopened.

“We’ll find out what the testing comes back with,” he said. “We’ll wait to see the results.”

Following the bridge’s closure, a grassroots community organization called Citizens to Save Smith’s Bridge raised $1,200 to pay for a second opinion on the bridge’s condition. That inspection was also done by Fleis and VandenBrink.

Williams and Works performed the initial bridge inspections.

Although the bridge’s condition has been on the city’s radar for many years, the Williams and Works report earlier this year indicated more deterioration had occurred over the winter. The report did not officially recommend closing the bridge to vehicle traffic, but City Council members said they wanted to err on the side of safety.

The Fleis and VandenBrink firm offered several options, which Bessinger said fairly mirrored the Williams and Works report. The report offers two options for further core testing, which could help determine if the bridge could possibly be reopened safely to vehicular traffic. 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.

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 estimated complete replacement cost is $13 million. The city has applied for several state and federal grants; but, to date, none has come to fruition.

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