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Are county bridges safe for school buses?

Staff writer

It may have been the way it was presented to them but the Marion County Commissioners certainly were caught off-guard Monday when a bridge engineer informed them that there were 47 bridges in the county that should not be used by heavy vehicles.

A study had been completed for another county by Milton Lowmaster of Cook, Flatt, & Stroebel, regarding the condition of bridges used by school buses. Lowmaster said he did the same study for the other counties he serves and found Marion County had 47.

The commission and county clerk Carol Maggard appeared to be dumbfounded when told of this news and questioned why it was not presented before this time.

“I’m confused because we had a good report in 2006,” commissioner Randy Dallke said. “You just walked in here and hit us with a sledgehammer.”

Lowmaster contended that he had presented the information two years ago that 47 bridges were below the 50 percent deficiency rating.

Acting public works director John Summerville said that just because these bridges had a deficiency rating doesn’t mean they’re impassable. Also, he wasn’t sure how many of these bridges were on roads used by school districts.

Summerville continued that he had bus route maps from some of the school districts and would compare the bus route maps with the bridges of concern.

“When you do a bridge inspection, is there any testing done?” Dallke asked. Lowmaster said there was no testing but the engineer looked at design deficiencies.

Commissioner Dan Holub said if some of these bridges can’t hold a school bus then they can’t hold semi-trucks hauling grain or large farm equipment.

Lowmaster said another inspection needed to be done. Summerville said Lowmaster’s firm already had been hired to provide inspections yet this year.

Holub asked if additional signs needed to be posted. Summerville responded that bridges with weight limits had signs.

“It’s the school’s responsibility to check out the bus routes,” Summerville said.

Dallke suggested another firm, other than Cook, Flatt, & Stroebel, look at the bridges.

After Lowmaster left the meeting, Dallke asked the number of years this particular engineering firm had inspected the bridges.

“I question the way we were told this. Maybe we need to have the next bridge inspection put on hold by this firm,” Dallke said. “I just question the professionalism of how it was presented to us today.”

After Summerville reviews the situation, the commission will discuss at Monday’s meeting.

New position created

The commission may have figured out a solution for the top two positions in the road and bridge department.

Following 55 minutes of executive sessions, the commission promoted motorgrader operator Mark Heiser to the newly-created position of section foreman. Heiser’s responsibilities will continue to be the section man for his area but also oversee other section men, train motograder operators as needed, and oversee road construction. His salary will be $2,800 per month, which became effective Monday.

Summerville also received a pay increase, giving him a monthly salary of $3,432 and an extra week of vacation after his one-year anniversary.

Last modified Sept. 10, 2008

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