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LIBERTY TOWNSHIP – The bridge on Patton Road in Liberty Township, spanning Dry Creek, was originally scheduled to be replaced in 2025.
Then, last October, Knox County Engineer Cameron Keaton got a call that changed everything.
It was from a resident who had just driven across the bridge. And while they made it across safely, Keaton said they seemed concerned about the way it felt.
“They said it seemed like something wasn’t right – that it had a little lean to it," Keaton recalled.
His crews went out to investigate and found the resident's concerns were justified. A storm the night before had knocked down a tree, which had floated down the creek and "took out part of the bridge, which was not in great shape to begin with," Keaton said.
The tree took out two of the wooden piers in the middle of the bridge, which helped hold it up. Given the nature of the damage, Keaton said the county had to close the bridge immediately.
"We could no longer keep it open," he said.
This happened on Oct. 26, 2020. In the days and weeks that followed, Keaton's office reached out to the Ohio Department of Transportation for assistance. The bridge was originally scheduled to be replaced in 2025, using funding from ODOT's Local Bridge Program, but Keaton urged the state to move the project up to 2021, given the unexpected urgency of the situation.
The state agreed.
"Next, in accordance with Ohio law, since the design services were going to be over $50,000, I had to go through the process of Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) of a design firm," Keaton said in an email. "I am not allowed to just go out and get proposals from companies."
This process typically takes three months, Keaton said – from advertising to signing contracts with the design firm. But it was delayed this winter by the COVID-19 pandemic, as much of the world was working from home.
The county eventually signed a contract with Columbus-based EMH&T on May 20, Keaton said, "because we could not come to an agreement on a price with the first company that was selected."
Keaton expects design work to take "most of the summer." The county would then put the project out to bid this fall, and construction would begin by the end of the year. The replacement project is expected to take approximately six months, Keaton said, meaning it would wrap up by spring 2022.
The project is expected to cost roughly $893,000, Keaton said. ODOT will foot 80 percent of the bill, while the county will pay the rest. The Patton Road bridge is one of nine scheduled for replacement in Knox County in 2021 (the county maintains 327 bridges, 400 miles of roadway and approximately 3,500 culverts total).
While bridge replacement projects are fairly standard within the county, as all 327 are inspected annually and reported to state and federal authorities, Keaton termed the Patton Road situation "unique."
"It's not often you have catastrophic failure like this ..." Keaton said. "We keep an eye on our bridges, and we know those that are close to being replaced. And most of the time, you can keep them open right up until you replace it."
When the Patton Road bridge reopens in 2022, it will have been closed for well over a year. This is rare, Keaton said, but sometimes unexpected factors – such as the weather, a pandemic, and contract delays – can dictate such an outcome.
"We hadn't started any design work (at the time of the tree incident last fall)," said Keaton, noting the project was slated for four years down the road. "We had to fast-track everything."
Patton Road, located just south of Mount Vernon, serves as a connector between State Route 36 and Bishop Road. It also leads to several residential properties.
Over the last seven months, since the bridge has been closed, Keaton said the community's response has been mixed. Some residents have voiced concerns about accessibility, while others have rejoiced in the newfound seclusion that has come with decreased traffic.
"There's always two sides to this sort of thing," Keaton said.