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2009-01-22

County dads pass on TxDOT bridge proposal

By Judith Pannebaker

Bandera County Commissioners recently - but respectfully - declined an offer from personnel with the Texas Department of Transportation to overhaul two county bridges over the Medina River.

Adding insult to injury, not only were commissioners compelled to turn down “free money,” but a third bridge they considered ready for reconstruction isn’t slated for work until 2019.

Coward & Castiglione

On Thursday, Jan. 8, Mike Coward, area engineer, and mobility engineer Jessica Castiglione PE, brought their recommendations and a PowerPoint presentation to the court.

Of the 3,912 “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient” bridges across the state on the TxDOT queue, the two in Bandera County at the top of the list for rehabbing and replacement are the bridge at Peaceful Valley Road and another on County Road 236 on the North Prong of the Medina River.

In TxDOT’s Highway Bridge Program, the federal government pays 80 percent of the cost and the state, 10 percent. County government must cough up the final 10 percent of the cost, either in cold hard cash or an equivalent match, i.e., engaging in similar work such as improving a low water crossing or strengthening an existing bridge.

Both projects were considered off-system because the bridges are extensions of county roads and would not be maintained by TxDOT.

Peaceful Valley nixed

Regarding the bridge on Peaceful Valley Road, County Judge Richard Evans noted a condemnation procedure would have to be initiated to acquire the right-of-way to correct the current’s bridge’s “terrible alignment.” However, no commissioner relished that battle with the landowner. In addition, paying for the right-of-way would not count toward the county’s match. “The county is required to acquire the necessary right-of-way,” Coward noted.

He also said the bridge scored badly because of its narrow lanes and lack of guardrails.

However, commissioners were taken aback at TxDOT’s $750,000 to $900,000 cost to replace a bridge that only sees 160 trips over it daily.

However, as Evans pointed out, “If we say no and a flood washes out the bridge, it’ll cost us. We’ll have to go to FEMA for help and they require a 25 percent match.”

If that happened, one commissioner recommended making the road a dead end. “A lot of people out there wouldn’t mind,” said Precinct 3 Commissioners Richard Keese.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King opined, “I like the bridge the way it is. It only serves 80 cars per day. I’d rather put our money where it would help more people.”

“I hate to turn down money, but I just hate fighting with taxpayers over something none of them wants,” Keese added.
Evans noted that if floodwaters damaged the bridge, it could be repaired to county standards. Engineer Ray Rendon concurred.
“Just remember,” Evans cautioned, “when we have a flood, everyone voted against TxDOT’s offer.”

Ditto CR 236

A second span that received a thumb’s down from commissioners was a bridge on CR 236 crossing the North Prong of the Medina River, 16 miles northwest of Medina off FM 2107.

This one-lane bridge serves even less people than the one at Peaceful Valley. By TxDOT count, only 10 cars make 20 trips across it daily.

Bandera County’s estimated cost to rehabilitate this span was $40,000 to $50,000.

“It doesn’t make sense to rehab this bridge,” said Evans. “We already have a bypass around it. It makes no sense to do this bridge when we can’t get to it in a flood.”

Although the structural rating of the North Prong Bridge was good, TxDOT deemed it obsolete because of its narrowness, Castiglione said.

“Bridges like this have history and I don’t want to lose that,” King said.

Which brought Castiglione and the commissioners to the one bridge everyone in the county would like to see upgraded, the span over the Medina River at English Crossing.

Bridge over flooded water

“If you could fix English Crossing and we could use these other bridges as a match, it would be of great help to this county,” Evans told Coward.

Unfortunately, one bridge on the TxDOT queue cannot be substituted for another, according to Castiglione.

Evans told TxDOT personnel that residents in Comanche Cliffs rely on the Pipe Creek Volunteer Fire Department for services. “When the bridge was shut down due to flooding a house burned because the fire department couldn’t arrive in time,” he said. In addition, he said when the bridge is out, Bandera Independent School District buses must add six miles each way on their routes. “It also impacts mail delivery,” Evans said.

According to TxDOT data, 1,030 trips are made daily over the concrete span.

TxDOT plans for the 1980 structure include replacing the entire bridge and its approaches, at a cost to the feds of approximately $2 million. The extensive English Crossing Bridge project would give the county four and a half years to complete its matching requirement.

Castiglione advised the court that additional information on the essential nature of the bridge could be used to bump up the project.

“If you get us some good flood and traffic information, we’ll see what we can do,” Coward promised.

King offered to secure a traffic counter for a more accurate assessment of the bridge’s usage. Precinct 1 Commissioners Bruce Eliker would work with the school district and volunteer fire departments. Even Fire Marshal Ralph Dresser volunteered to help gather necessary data.

As emergency management coordinator, public safety is a top priority for Dresser. “County bridges going underwater overnight remain one of my biggest concerns,” Dresser told TxDOT personnel. “You come around a ninety degree turn and there you are.”