By GREG RUSSELL
Register Staff Writer
Westbound Highway 82 traffic will be subject to detour through the year’s remainder as a crew contracted with Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) replaces a pair of bridges between Gainesville and Oak Ridge.
TxDOT Public Information Officer Adele Lewis said the Wheeler Creek and Rock Creek bridges are undergoing full replacement by Hodges and Son Construction through use of $1.4 million in federal funding.
Both bridges had been in use for more than 50 years, she said, and new versions should be complete by late December following a project that began in mid-June.
“Unless some foreseeable thing happens, that’s their plan: to have the new bridges done and open to traffic by the end of the year,” Lewis said Thursday. “That’s what we call ‘substantially complete,’ barring any last-minute changes. But that’s exactly how these bridges are planned, unless storms are really bad.”
In the meantime, westbound traffic will be detoured onto a special lane on eastbound Highway 82 once drivers reach the two large roadway gaps where the bridges are being replaced. Lewis said such highway bridge replacement is prevalent in Texas, since the state contains a higher-than-average number of them.
“Texas has more bridges altogether than all of the five states that touch it,” she said. “Therefore, Texas receives lots of bridge money from the federal government that we have to use especially for bridge replacements and major overhauls and fixes. We also have special programs to local governments to pay for all of their bridge replacements, too.”
Bridges such as the Wheeler Creek and Rock Creek units are inspected every two years for structural quality, Lewis said, unless notably in decline, which subjects them to biannual inspection and eventual replacement. At the same time, she added, her Wichita Falls TxDOT district is in competition for funding with the department’s other districts, and a need for state highway bridge money must be justified.
“Once they approve it, those bridges have to be replaced, and we can’t ask for a replacement until there’s a need for it to be replaced,” she said.
State-contracted bridge projects tend to last for several decades once complete, Lewis said, and it’s more often only in county or city jurisdictions that one bridge will be kept in use for any longer than that. Such older bridges fall into a category of “functionally obsolete” — usable mainly for areas other than state highways.
“They’re fine bridges if you’re running bicycles and small cars on them,” Lewis said. “But when you have semi-trucks running, and school buses with small children, we have to use different standards.”
But the units now undergoing an upgrade on Highway 82, Lewis said, exist under the same condition as any other bridge: built to last, but not to last forever.
"A bridge starts to decline once it's finished," she said. "Like a used car."