A Retired Civil Structural Engineer Claims Maclay Bridge Should Be Condemned In Letter To Editor

by William Skink

Very welcome news came last week about the South Avenue bridge project finally, FINALLY moving forward. After two decades of community debate, and a final effort at obstructionism enabled by County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, the County submitted its environmental analysis to the Department of Transportation.

While I am ultimately happy that the process is moving forward, there remains a critical question: is the Maclay bridge safe to use TODAY? Beach Transportation has apparently determined the answer is no. Even after the bridge got patched up earlier this month, Beach decided to continue using an alternative route for school buses. After reading a letter to the editor this morning from Marshall Cromwell, a retired civil structural engineer, I am very glad Beach made that decision. Here is the letter:

After reading Travis Mateer’s excellent letter (Oct. 21) concerning the safety of his kids on the school bus having to cross the Maclay Bridge every day, I finally decided to drive out and have a look at that bridge myself.

As a retired civil structural engineer, I offer the following: Topside looks OK. Underneath is a disaster. Wide flange beams and steel deck severely corroded and weakened. Serious issues at the concrete abutments. Vibration caused by heavy traffic is alarming.

This one-lane bridge should have been condemned 30 years ago. The structure is outdated, extremely weak, corroding rapidly and must therefore be replaced. Because sooner or later it will collapse. Bridges collapse all the time. The results are never good.

Can you imagine the horror of a loaded school bus dropping through that bridge one day? It’s a scary thought, because I too have kids. The lawsuits would be staggering.

Build a new concrete bridge. South side. Plenty of space. Two lanes, with pedestrian walkways. To not replace that bridge constitutes criminal neglect.

Warning: A structural failure would mean lost lives and a lot of blood on people’s hands. Is that what you want, Missoula? Wake up, before it’s too late!

When the Missoulian did it’s Sunday feature piece on this madness a study on traffic volume showed how much use this functionally obsolete bridge was seeing nearly a decade a go, in 2010. The recommended volume of vehicles per day for Maclay is 100, but the study indicated over 2,600 cars, on average, were crossing the bridge every day. I’m sure a decade of growth like Missoula has experienced has increased those numbers significantly.

Thanks to the obstruction of South Avenue property owners, a new bridge will still take a lot of time to build. What will happen to Maclay in the meantime? If what the retired civil structural engineer is saying is true, the bridge should have been condemned yesterday.

I hope County Commissioners read Marshall Cromwell’s letter to the editor, and I hope they think long and hard about criminal negligence, litigation and the safety of their constituents.

Since the County Commissioners have not done enough to keep the constituents who live in this area safe up to this point, I guess it’s up to us citizens to inform ourselves and make our own determination of risk. If you’re a parent like I am, that means determining risk for your children as well.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to A Retired Civil Structural Engineer Claims Maclay Bridge Should Be Condemned In Letter To Editor

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