Nebraska bridge reopening

As of Oct. 31, tractor-trailer units and all other types of vehicles returned to make the trek between Missouri and Nebraska over the bridge on U.S. Highway 136. The bridge, located just east of Brownville, Nebraska, and all other major Missouri River bridges have fully reopened to traffic following closures due to this year’s flooding. But motorists must still utilize detours from Interstate 29 over state highways 118 and 111 in order to access the bridge just east of Rulo, Nebraska.

BROWNVILLE, Neb. — All of the Missouri River bridges that span the state into both Nebraska and Kansas are once again fully accessible to the driving public.

That statement, issued Wednesday by the Missouri Department of Transportation, conclusively ends more than seven months of flood-related closures to major high-usage bridges on U.S. Highway 136 at Brownville, Nebraska; U.S. Highway 159 at Rulo, Nebraska; and U.S. Highway 59 at Atchison, Kansas.

Adam Watson, an area engineer for the Northwest district office of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said both of the spans crossing into Nebraska have routine maintenance issues that will continue to be addressed. The Brownville bridge was cleared to reopen to traffic on Oct. 31, after being shut down on March 22. The Rulo bridge also reopened on that date.

“Both came through in pretty good shape,” Watson told News-Press NOW. “All of the major river bridges came through the flood in really pretty good shape. ... We are looking at them from a maintenance standpoint.”

The Nebraska Department of Roads has primary maintenance responsibility for the Rulo bridge, while MoDOT has the lead for the Brownville bridge. The long-term relationship between the respective states means each has the role of providing a 50 percent share in maintenance of the bridges.

Watson said crews have discovered erosion around some of the bridges’ substructures, where pilings extend down into the foundation. Yet even with the flooding, such wear and tear of the construction is considered a normal maintenance issue, which will be performed.

“We had noticed some scour before the flood,” he said, referring specifically to the Brownville bridge. “We’re still going to go in and survey it.”

The bridge also has encountered some issues with its embankment that will need to be rectified. Although problems are suspected, it’s been ascertained that the damage is not severe, and a dive team will not necessarily be required for further investigations.

Rulo and the other spans also sustained minor amounts of scouring. But the obvious remaining impediment to full normalcy for the bridge is the major flood-related failure of an approach bridge on the highway over the Little Tarkio Creek at Fortescue, Missouri. Taking down and removing the damaged bridge pieces away from the scene has become problematic.

“The work hasn’t started,” said Watson of the cleanup and replacement project.

The Fortescue issue means Missouri motorists plying Highway 159 must follow a detour that involves exiting Interstate 29 at Mound City, and taking Missouri Highway 118 west to Missouri Highway 111 in order to cross the Rulo bridge and enter Nebraska. Engineers currently hope to replace the Little Tarkio bridge next spring.

Cooperative talks of a maintenance plan between MoDOT and its Nebraska counterparts continues.

One business that is breathing a sigh of relief from the Brownville bridge’s return to normal activity is the Nebraska Public Power District, which operates the nearby Cooper Nuclear Station.

“Many employees have stayed on the Nebraska side of the river during the week and returned home on the weekends, taking many long routes to get home,” said Mark Becker, a spokesman for the utility.

Becker said the plant has been able to return to normal work schedules, after allowing flexibility due to the bridge closing.

“Several employees did note that there were people on the Nebraska side of the river who worked in Missouri that felt the impact of the bridge being closed for so long and faced the same situation as Cooper employees,” he added.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.