Time, traffic and the elements have taken their toll on a venerable Hastings transportation landmark that once was the north entrance to the city, prompting officials to order its closure at the end of the month, at least on a temporary basis.
Recent extreme winter weather expedited deterioration within the 16th Street viaduct substructure to the point of near critical condition.
Acting on assessments by a representative from the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s bridge inspection program in November 2018 as part of a regular evaluation, and then a follow-up inspection by engineering firm Olsson on April 3, city officials have determined to temporarily close the old overpass on May 31, while it is still safe to drive.
From that point, the structure’s future, while uncertain, looks less than rosy.
“We feel like the best step forward on this would be to go ahead and close it down — we’ll call it ‘temporarily’ — to evaluate the situation,” Mayor Corey Stutte said. “I think there’s going to have to be a period of evaluation over the next couple months to really figure out what the way ahead might be. None of the options are good options. Any of the expenses are going to have to be generally obligated, which means it’s going to be at the taxpayers’ expense. We want to make sure we are taking public safety into account while we evaluate all these options.”
The Olsson assessment agreed with the state inspection that the bridge substructure is in serious condition due to the spalling of the concrete and the rusting of the reinforcement under and near abutment 1 bearings of girders A and E and pier 6 and eight bearings of girder A.
Based on condition code trends of the last 12 years and the differences seen between the November 2018 inspection photos and the Olsson assessment, Olsson estimates the substructure will fall into critical condition in six to nine months, and at that point bridge closure would be mandatory.
Immediate action is required to repair the substructure concrete around the bearings at abutment 1 and at piers 6 and 8. The expected service life of the bridge with these repairs is only two to three years, after which extensive repair, replacement, or closure will be required. The probable cost of these immediate repairs is $150,000.
Two other options, other than full removal, were studied for the bridge: Rehabilitation and full replacement.
Rehabilitation is estimated to cost $2.275 million with a service life of 30 years.
Full replacement is estimated to cost $5.7 million with a service life of 75 years.
Permanent closure, which would reroute traffic to one of the nearest open railroad crossings, is estimated to cost $500,000. Because the bridge is an alternate route, removing it would lead to higher traffic on U.S. Highway 281.
With a permanent closure of a bridge over the railroad, the bridge still requires inspections to verify any critical issues that could lead to collapse or partial collapse onto the tracks. This would also be required unless steps were taken to eliminate potential use of the structure by pedestrians.
The city received the Olsson report May 10. Stutte said after meeting with council members individually to discuss the 16th Street viaduct situation, it was the consensus of the council to close the roadway.
Council members are scheduled to discuss the viaduct’s future during their June 3 work session.
The former Taylor’s Steak House building at 1609 N. Kansas Ave., underneath the 16th Street viaduct, has been home to the Ministerio Internacional Dios Es Amor church since 2016. Development services director Don Threewitt met on Tuesday afternoon with the church’s pastor, the Rev. Elder Barahona, as well as a church administrator, to discuss the situation.
Threewitt said the church leaders were very understanding and had been talking about the bridge condition themselves recently. Barahona is open to anything that needs to happen.
Threewitt said he would keep church officials informed of the situation moving forward.
The church’s access and parking will not be significantly affected. Barahona said he wanted to be informed if it will be affected.
City Engineer Dave Wacker said while the substructure of the bridge, which was constructed in 1935, is in dire need of being replaced, its deck, which was replaced in 1985, remains in great shape.
“It’s kind of an engineering marvel when you think of its age because it’s on a curve,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said.
Portions of the parking lot underneath have been barricaded by snow fence due to falling chunks of concrete.
When the viaduct was constructed it was the north entrance to Hastings on U.S. Highway 281.
Since that time, Highway 281 was rerouted — in the early 1980s — a few blocks to the west, and the Elm Avenue overpass was constructed in the early 1990s.
“I’d say the north-south connectivity with the Elm overpass as well as the 281 overpass provides sufficient crossing avenues for the public to make sure they’re able to get from either way over those tracks,” Stutte said. “We feel fairly comfortable Hastings Fire and Rescue would be able to make their runs, as well as the police make their runs, if there are any issues there.”
Still, the 16th Street Viaduct sees significant traffic flow.
A traffic study conducted by the city of Hastings’ engineering department during the afternoon and evening of May 16 as well as May 17 and 18, showed an average daily traffic count of 3,931 including 154 trucks.
“It’s carrying a substantial amount of traffic,” Wacker said.
City officials are hesitant to add so significantly to the city’s debt load, especially when past administrations have worked hard to shrink that amount from around $17 million in 2000 to $2.325 on Sept. 30, 2018, which was the last day of the past fiscal year.
“Really, we just want to be proactive about this,” Stutte said. “We want to make sure we are protecting the safety of our citizens while we go through this evaluation period on what’s next for this particular viaduct. An 84-year-old structure is going to be degraded. The freeze and the thaw cycle from this last winter, which we all know was hard on all of our roads made it even worse. We just feel we need to do this for the safety of our citizens. We’ll evaluate it and collect feedback moving forward.”
The email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, has been created for public comments on the temporary closing of the 16th Street viaduct.